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Sunday, November 30, 2008

In the News: International Mutual Aid in the Search for Missing Climbers

On Saturday, November 22nd, two 25 year-old, Romanian climbers disappeared in the Carpathian Mountains. Initial efforts to find them were unsuccessful, so help was requested from the Austrian Bergrettung.

The Austrians, while volunteers, have the professional know-how and skills needed for difficult rescues. With the financial support of donors, the government, the European Union and UNO, they have responded to search and rescue missions around the world, including sending K-9 teams to help in the aftermath of earthquakes in Iran.

The Romanian Mountain Rescue team, or "Salvamont," is incredibly experienced in their own right, undertaking rescue missions three to four times per week during the summer and often daily rescues during winter months. A typical rescue can involve hiking ten miles and then recovering and transporting the lost or deceased person/s back to base, which can take more than 12 hours. The team can be deployed in as little as 10 minutes from the time of the distress call, no matter the weather, day or night, even if they have just returned from a 16-hour mission.

The Romanians contacted the Austrians for assistance in searching for the two climbers on Monday night, November 24th. The call was made to Franz Lindenberg, head of the Bergrettung, who for years has been working closely with the Romanian Mountain Rescue team. On Tuesday, the Austrian team, outfitted with specialized equipment not available in Romania, flew to Bucharest and was then transported by Romanian Army helicopter to the 2,500 meter-high search area.

The weather report on Tuesday for the region near the city of Busteni in Central Romania was for snowstorms and temperatures 12 degrees below zero Celsius (or 10 degrees Fahrenheit), which put the missing climbers' lives in danger.

There were signs that the two subjects, who were said to be relatively well-equipped, were still alive, according to Peter Veider of the Bergrettung Tirol, and at least one of the climbers supposedly had Recco reflectors sewn into her clothing. These reflectors, which are permanently affixed and require no training or batteries to use, make it possible to detect a person from the air. The Austrians are specialists in the Recco System.

The search for the climbers continued for two more days, during which the Austrian and Romanian rescuers searched the Prahova Valley with RECCO transmitters, until Peter Veider and Arno Piersteiner from the Austrian Bergrettung discontinued the mission on Thursday evening.

All indications were that the two Romanians had been buried under an avalanche. This determination was made as the result of triangulations of one of the victim's cell phones made by Romanian telecommunications experts. They figure the missing persons were buried under 6 to 8 meters (or 20 to 26 feet) of snow.

The job of recovering the bodies will be the responsibility of the Romanians, while the costs for this search and rescue operation will be covered by the families of the two victims, who are apparently financially well off with "good government connections," according to a Romanian journalist.

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