Drone Use Saves Climber Feared Dead in Himalayas

Rick Allen was feared dead after missing for 36 hours after a solo climb. Fortunately, a drone was deployed and he was located.

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Once again, basic use of an unmanned aerial vehicle has helped save someone’s life. Scottish mountain climber Rick Allen had been feared dead after falling and suffering from frostbite during a solo climb on Broad Peak in the Himalayas, according to the BBC. It was only when Polish drone pilots Andrzej and Bartek Bargiel aerially spotted Allen and guided Sherpas and other climbers, that he was rescued. 

Allen was on his way back to base camp following a solo climb to Broad Peak’s 26,401-foot summit when he fell. Though he was injured by the fall and was already undergoing signs of frostbite on his toes, he continued his attempt to trek down the mountain. Allen said that “a number of people had assessed the situation and come to the conclusion that I was not going to come back.” Even his climbing partner, Sandy Allan, wasn’t too optimistic. “We were convinced he was dead,” said Allan. 

Fortunately for Allen, the Bargiel brothers decided to deploy their drone to make absolutely sure. Allen described the day’s drone use as “significant,” as the captured footage provided evidence he might not be dead and “gave everybody hope” he could still be saved. 

Allen and Allan initially planned on reaching the Broad Peak summit together, but the latter turned back after deciding not to brave the harsh winds anymore, leaving Allen to attempt the journey on his own. Unfortunately, he fell from a cliff during the climb, and sustained significant injuries. When a Japanese cook spotted a backpack belonging to the missing climber, a stunning 36 hours later, the alarm was raised and a drone was deployed.

Even though the drone being piloted around Broad Peak and K2 at an altitude of 27,559 feet saved his life, Allen said he usually finds drones in the wilderness pretty irritating. “But this changed my perception of them,” he admitted. “This drone was being driven by pretty smart, young guys. One of them is planning to ski down K2 while being filmed by the other.” 

Though Allen had previously lost half of a big toe to frostbite during the harrowing events of another expedition, the man seems undeterred to allow the elements to dictate what he does. Fortunately for him, and every other climber risking their life by braving seemingly unscalable monuments, mountain rescue teams across the world are increasingly adding drones to their equipment. While Allen likely feels right at home ascending treacherous, ice-cold cliffsides, it’s safe to say he’s not only thanking his lucky stars right now, but camera-drones, as well.