ISLAMABAD, Pakistan The frostbitten last survivor of the mountaineering disaster that killed 11 people on the world's second-highest peak was plucked off K2 on Wednesday and taken to a military hospital, a Pakistani army spokesman said.
Italian Marco Confortola, three members of his support team, and a group of South Koreans were taken by helicopter from a K2 base camp to the nearest town of Skardu, army spokesman Maj. Farooq Feroz said. Confortala was taken into the military hospital there in a wheelchair and television footage showed the 37-year-old lying on a bed, wires hooked up to his chest and his frostbitten toes tinged bluish-gray.
"I am fine. Luckily I'm made of stern stuff," Confortola told Everest-K2-CNR, an Italy-based high-altitude scientific research group, during a phone call from K2's base camp at about 17,000 feet. "The only problem is that my feet hurt. I spent seven days on that mountain. It was hard. It was terrible."
Confortola, 37, was among 30 mountaineers who began their ascent of K2 on Friday. He was stranded after an avalanche swept some climbers away and left others stranded in frigid conditions just below the 28,250-foot summit. In all, 11 people died: three South Koreans, two Nepalis, two Pakistanis and mountaineers from France, Ireland, Serbia and Norway.
Fatal accidents are common on the treacherous peaks that attract top mountaineers to Pakistan each summer, but this is the deadliest single incident in memory, surpassing the seven climbers killed on K2 during a fierce storm in 1995.
K2, which straddles Pakistan and China in the Karakoram range, is regarded by mountaineers as far more challenging than Mount Everest, the world's highest peak. The mesmerizing giant pyramid of K2's knife-edged ridges and icy slopes are steeper and prone to both avalanches and sudden and severe storms.
Confortola was the last survivor to reach safety. He limped into base camp with frostbitten feet Tuesday, but thick clouds forced him to stay an extra night. Authorities took him to a military hospital.
Feroz said the 12 South Koreans already at the base camp were also airlifted at their request because "they were having difficulty in walking down from the base camp on K2."
Confortola told Italy's SKY TG 24 TV that he would return to Italy "as soon as possible" to see a doctor he trusted to treat his feet and lower limbs.
The Italian echoed criticism of the expedition voiced by another survivor, saying it was undermined by inexperience and low-quality equipment, including ropes and spikes that easily broke.
He told Everest-K2-CNR of feeling helpless when he and others made a futile attempt to rescue the three Koreans dangling from a rope. He said he was too weak and had to give up.
"I couldn't take it anymore, I descended" alone, Confortola said. "The descent was devastating, especially the last part."
He was escorted part of the way down by three others, including an American climber.
One Dutch survivor, Wilco Van Rooijen, who was rescued Monday, blamed mistakes in preparation not just the avalanche for the loss of life. He said advance climbers laid ropes in some of the wrong places, including in a treacherous gully known as "The Bottleneck," about 1,150 feet below the summit, where the ice fall later took place.
That caused hours of delays, so climbers reached the summit just before nightfall, while others turned back. Ice overhanging the route fell as the fastest mountaineers were descending some of the iciest and most difficult sections just below the summit.
Government officials in Islamabad have promised to investigate the tragedy.
Shahzad Qaiser, a top official at the Ministry of Tourism, which oversees tour companies that provide services to mountaineering expeditions said he had not yet received a formal complaint against any tour operator, and added the responsibility for placing ropes on a mountain lay with the mountaineers themselves. Not all climbers who have been up K2 believe those sections require fixed ropes.
About 280 people have reached K2's summit since 1954, when it was first achieved by Italians Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedell. Dozens of deaths have been recorded since 1939, most of them occurring during the descent.