A rescue helicopter is on standby at the foot of Burma’s Himalayan glaciers, after a climbing team lost contact with base camp and has not been heard from for a week.
The expedition is the first all-Burmese mission to successfully scale the summit of Hkakabo Razi, the highest mountain in Southeast Asia, standing at over 19,000 feet.
But despite the silence, the sponsors of the expedition have emphasised that there is no need to panic, and have said that faulty satellite phones or a lack of battery power are most likely the reason why the team has been incommunicado.
Myo Thant is chairman of Thabawa Khawthan, or Nature’s Call Foundation, which sponsored the expedition. He said it is still too early to panic.
“Some people were worried after we lost contact with them,” he told DVB on Monday. “But the local authorities have all been watching the situation, including the regional military command which has sent a helicopter in case of emergency.”
His comments came in response to several media reports suggesting that some tragedy had befallen the climbers as they descended the 5,881m Himalayan peak, situated in northern Kachin State at the tri-border between Burma, China and India.
“A total of eight climbers plus a guide made the ascent,” Myo Thant said on Monday. “But only two of them climbed to the peak. The back-up team was camped some 7,000 feet below. They would have known if anything was amiss.”
Although they may not be able to contact base camp, the team can still communicate with each other via walkie-talkie, he added.
The eight-man expedition was expected to arrive at a mountain checkpoint on Monday, but didn’t turn up. Having reached the peak of Hkakabo Razi on 31 August, the team began descending immediately and are scheduled to reach a base camp on the Tibetan side of the mountain on 13 September.
“They set off from Putao on 31 July and reached the summit exactly one month later,” said Myo Thant. “But the descent was only expected to take 20 days.”
He confirmed that a rescue team is at the ready in the northern Kachin town of Putao.
The Burmese army’s northern command has prepared an aerial search party, should the radio silence continue.