Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Weak Rescue Attempt on Aconcagua

The video below shows rescuers attempting to bring down Argentinian mountain guide, Frederico Campinini. I was on Aconcagua during this "rescue" attempt...at a lower camp. All of the "rescuers" in the video appear to be either Argentinian or Chilean. Sadly none of them appeared to have any clue as to how to perform a high alpine rescue.

The commentary includes rescuers ridiculing Campinini. On numerous occasions they mutter the word ‘idiot’ at him, while also pushing, pulling, and dragging on him by a single rope. It is thought that the rescuers believed Campinini was dead before they were summoned for the rescue attempt. With this in mind, the rescuers failed to bring proper equipment along to aid in a successful rescue. At about the 1 minute mark, you can plainly see Campinini trying to make a move to get up and going–he gets up on his knees–then the rescuers, rather than help him to get up, start pulling on him to get him moving.

If you think this video looks like the rescue is heading UP Aconcagua, you would be right. The rescuers decided that a safer route could be managed to bring down Campanini by going back up and over the summit. The condition that Campinini is seen in would make this a very hard decision, indeed. He can barely move on his hands and knees. Campanini eventually collapses after barely making a move. The rescuers are all seen standing around the fallen guide and trying to decide what to do. A call is made by radio explaining that Campanini would be dead in 20 minutes. All within earshot of the climber. A few minutes later, a decision is made to abandon the rescue. With Campanini crumpled down in the snow, the rescuers leave–it is not known if Campanini was alive or dead at this point. It is known that his body was left on Aconcagua.

The rescuers involved in this incident are not identified. The videographer of Campanini’s recue attempt is also not identified, but an anonymous source sent this video to Campanini’s father, who then released it to the internet via YouTube and the Argentinian press. Much criticism has followed this video’s release. Was Campanini abandoned by his rescuers? Could he have survived this incident if things had been done properly?

Reports of Federico Campanini’s condition range from hypothermia and dehydration to High Altitude Pulmonary Edema (HAPE)–a buildup of fluid in the lungs associated with being in high altitudes. Regarding the hypothermia and dehydration, rescuers came ill prepared to handle any of this as it was assumed that they were going after a corpse, and not a survivor. They carried no fluids and did not have proper means to warm Mr. Campinini. If indeed Mr. Campanini was suffering from HAPE, this could have been thwarted by simply bringing him down to a lower altitude–quickly. The decision to go back up Aconcagua, then over, and back down, could have very well been the deciding factor in if Campanini would survive. With breathing already difficult in 20,000+ feet of altitude, as well as the buildup of fluid in the lungs, moving anywhere quickly would be a task. Throughout the video, it is plainly seen that for the most part, one person is doing all the work, while four others stand nearby–or offer belittling encouragement (’Get up, idiot!’). These rescuers obviously had no idea of what they were doing and had not been properly trained in how to handle such a situation. They also seemed to not mind being filmed, or to have this film eventually made public.

This is a sad video that offers a brief look at what happens when absolutely everything can go wrong during a rescue. Federico Campinini didn’t have a chance.