Search for missing climbers in Azerbaijan temporarily suspended due to severe weather conditions
Three young climbers went missing on the slopes of Mount Tufandag ten days ago. The search efforts to find them haven’t yielded any results so far.
On 23 December three young climbers, Babur Huseynov, Namin Bunyadov and Farida Jabrailzadeh left Khinalig village, Guba province. They went hiking in the direction of Tufandag, north of Azerbaijan, never to return. Contact with them was lost a day later.
A search operation led by the local department of the Ministry of Emergency Situations (MES) of Azerbaijan was organized the next day. Helicopters as well as specially equipped specialists of the Azerbaijani National Agency for Mine Action (ANAMA) were also involved in the search operation.
Search operations were conducted daily from 6 am to 5 pm. Colonel Shahin Mirzayev, the Chief of the Azerbaijani MES local department said:
“Temperatures there range from 15 to 20 degrees below zero. The snow is 7-8m deep in some areas.”
Late on 2 January the weather further deteriorated due to heavy snowfall and strong winds. The decision was made to temporarily suspend the search operation.
“The search teams set up camps in the safer areas in order to wait out the strong wind which is accompanied by heavy snowfall,” Said Arzu Mustafayev, a member of the search team.
Reports criticizing the rescue operation are published from time to time on social media and on some websites. On 2 January a group of rescue team members released a statement directly accusing the organizers of the search operation of incompetence.
Colonel Shahin Mirzayev called on social media users to refrain from disseminating unverified information.
“False reports complicate the work. It confuses people and has a negative impact on the missing alpinists’ next of kin,” Mirzayev told APA news agency.
As an experienced climber anonymously told JAMnews, primary responsibility for the incident rests with the leadership of the Ministry of Ecology and Natural Resources of Azerbaijan, which abusively exercised its exclusive right to issue climber route permits.
“The Ministry of Ecology permitted three less experienced guys to climb Tufan. They categorically shouldn’t have climbed Tufan in winter. The danger of avalanches is high in that area due to its terrain features,” the climber believes.
Ziya Gasimov, the CEO of Gilavar Air & Extreme Sports Club claims that despite their young age the missing climbers are rather experienced alpinists.
“They are familiar with winter alpinism. I don’t think that the guys made a mistake nor that they got caught in an avalanche,” Gasimov told the Report news agency.
Officials at the MES headquarters assured the public that the search operation will resume as soon as the weather calms down.