‘Slim’ Odds of Finding Missing Burmese Climbers: Rescuer

By San Yamin Aung 7 October 2014

RANGOON — Hopes of finding two Burmese mountain climbers, missing for over a month on Mount Hkakabo Razi in northern Kachin State, are fading as unfavorable weather conditions continue to hamper search efforts, rescue officials have said.

The two Burmese climbers were last heard from on Aug. 31 after becoming the first from their country to reach the summit of Hkakabo Razi, long believed to be the tallest mountain in Southeast Asia.

Aung Myint Myat and Wai Yan Min Thu had set out with six other climbers on July 31 but were the only two in the group who were able to continue to the top because the final stretch of the summit was too narrow.

When they reached the peak, the two men sent a message to the other climbers, giving their GPS location and adding that their battery was weak. They were supposed to meet the others back at base camp on Sept. 9 but never showed up. Rescuers began carrying out aerial searches the following day.

“Since the two missing climbers [have been] missing for over one month, hopes of finding them are too slim,” Paw Myint Oo, chief executive officer of the Htoo Foundation, said at a press conference on Saturday. He added that poor weather conditions were making ongoing search efforts difficult, but said that they would continue.

The Htoo Foundation, the philanthropic branch of Burmese tycoon Tay Za’s sprawling business conglomerate, has led the search for the missing mountaineers over the past month.

Phyo Ko Ko, a spokesman for the foundation, said that a Japanese rescue team and the Blue Sky rescue team from China, as well as local people, were assisting in the search.

A four-member Italian rescue team that arrived in Putao Township on Sept. 28 and helped with the search for the climbers, as well as that of a missing Thai rescue helicopter that lost contact with ground control on Sept. 27 during search efforts, headed back to Italy on Sunday.

The Italian team, who related their experiences during a press conference at Kandawgyi Palace Hotel in Rangoon on Saturday, said that it would be difficult to survive the conditions on the mountain after one month and recommended that search efforts resume when conditions were more favorable.

“[Conditions for the search] could be best at the end of November and early December, which is colder but drier than now,” Piergiorgio Rosati, the head of the Italian team, told The Irrawaddy.

The Italian rescue team said they had found the footprints of the climbers on the mountain during their one-week search but had found no trace of the missing helicopter. The helicopter, with three people on board, had been bringing rations to a rescue team based in Tahomdum village that was searching for the climbers.

The three on board the chopper were Shwe Yin Taw Gyi, the nephew of Burmese mountaineer Namar Johnsin and personal assistant to the Htoo Foundation’s patron Tay Za, Thai pilot Chat Chawal and Burmese pilot Aung Myat Toe.

“It is really hard to say if they are still alive or not and where they are,” Rosati said of the missing men.

On the search for the missing helicopter, Paw Myint Oo said, “We will break for two days for maintenance of the rescue helicopters and [for] the pilots to rest and [we] will continue the search after that.”