In late 2010, mountain climbers Alexey Gorbatenkov and Svetlana Gutsalo died near the peak of the Tengkampoche mountain in the Khumbu Valley (Everest) region in Nepal. This May, in a record-breaking recovery mission by Piergiorgio Rosati and Simone Moro, Gorbatenkovs body was finally retrieved.
Rosati and Moro conducted the recovery while working for Fishtail Air, a Nepali charter helicopter company based in Kathmandu. Fishtails fleet is often used for rescue and recovery expeditions at Mount Everest and its neighboring mountains, along with sightseeing, medical evacuation and expedition work, among a host of other missions. The company operates two Eurocopter AS350 B3s, an AS350 B2 and a Bell 206B-3 JetRanger.
The B3 AStars, in particular, are ideally suited for the companys demanding, high-altitude missions. In fact, one of Fishtails B3s made history in 2010 when its crew performed a long-line rescue on Mount Annapurna at 22,800 feet/6,950 meters (see p.10, Vertical 911, ALEA 2010).
The mission to recover Gorbatenkovs body took place at an altitude of 20,930 feet, over the course of two days this past May. Flying one of Fishtails AS350 B3s, pilot Rosati guided Moro, who was stationed on the end of a long line, to the mission site, where Gorbatenkovs tent was spotted on a 75-degree slope, with a 6,560-foot vertical drop below it. Said Moro, This extreme, one-of-a-kind rescue/evacuation is the highest rescue in the world by a long line on a vertical face.
Moro, a native of Italy, was an ideal choice for the mission, due to two unique skill sets he possesses. In addition to having pilot certification from the European Joint Aviation Authorities and United States Federal Aviation Administration, Moro is a renowned mountaineer who has climbed Mount Everest four times and is the only person to have climbed three mountains above 26,245 feet in full winter season.
Rosati, meanwhile, is a 9,000-plus-hour pilot from northern Italy who primarily has been flying emergency medical service missions back home. During his short-term assignment with Fishtail, he primarily flew rescue missions out of Lukla near the Khumbu Valley.
To begin the recovery mission, Moro had to drill into the ice face and create an anchor from which he could work to release the climbers body from the mountain. Once Moro was secure, Rosati flew off and left Moro hanging on the mountainside, where he worked for two straight hours to extract the body.
At first, the remains, found in a seated position, were thought to be those of Gutsalos, but it turned out to be those of Gorbatenkovs. It was later discovered that Gutsalo was the first of the two climbers to perish; she fell while descending close to the summit. Her fall left Gorbatenkov unroped and without a harness, meaning he was neither able to descend nor continue climbing up. Its believed he subsequently froze to death.
Moro was finally able to release Gorbatenkovs body from the mountain on the second day of the mission. He was then flown with the climbers body on the long line to lower ground; the body was then transported to Lukla and finally on to Kathmandu.
Reportedly, Gutsalos body has also now been found, although it is not yet clear when a recovery mission for her remains will take place.