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Report: poor tactics led to 2 deaths in Himalayas

September 18, 2013

WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Poor tactics and the splitting up of an expedition group led to the deaths of two Polish climbers during the first winter ascent of a Himalayan peak in March, according to a report by Poland’s mountaineering experts, published Wednesday.

The two climbers were among four Poles who scaled the 26,000-foot (8,000-meter) Broad Peak, the world’s 12th highest mountain, located in Pakistan. The two went missing on their way back down. The body of Tomasz Kowalski, 27, was found and buried near the peak. The body of Maciej Berbeka, 58, has not been found.

The report by members of the Polish Association of Alpinism said that the team set out too late in the day and that the climbers had no clear time plan or criteria of circumstances that could make them turn back.

It blamed the two faster climbers — Adam Bielecki and Artur Malek — for leaving Kowalski and Berbeka behind and losing visual contact with them, calling that a “fundamental mistake.” The report blamed Bielecki for intentionally breaking up the group.

Bielecki, Poland’s most promising climber, said the report was “dishonest” and made him a scapegoat. But he agreed that they miscalculated their timing and said that Kowalski and Berbeka miscalculated their physical capabilities.

“The team split up because the smoothly going ascent (at some point) turned into an individual struggle for survival,” Bielecki told Tygodnik Powszechny weekly. “I was terrified by the late hour. Yes, I rushed ahead simply because I was afraid. ... Everything was on the verge of panic and struggle for life.”

The team set out at 5 a.m. but only reached the peak, separately, in the late afternoon, having little daylight and much lower night-time temperatures left for the way down.

Polish climbers have a long but also tragic history of scaling all the highest peaks in the Himalayas, 10 of them in winter.

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