Avalanche on Mt Ararat

Avalanche tragedy on Ararat adventure
By Richard Cowper in Erzerum, Turkey

FT.com site;
May 14, 2004

“Avalanche!” The cry every mountaineer dreads and coming from right
behind my left shoulder.

No time to think. No time to waste. Just ski as fast as I can away from
the wall of wet snow sliding down the side of the mountain towards me.

We were in the wilds of eastern Turkey preparing to make one of the
first British ski ascents of Mt Ararat – at 5,137m the country’s
highest mountain and famous in legend as the place where Noah landed
with his ark after the flood.

After less than a minute, near silence.

Even the gale-force wind seemed to have stopped. Then the dawning
realisation, that even though my friend Robert Mulder and I had seen
no-one go under, any one of our three companions might have been buried
under the thousands of tonnes of heavy wet snow that had filled up
the bottom of the steep gulley along which we had been skiing.

We looked for tell-tale signs like skis, bits of clothing or abandoned
rucksacks, but nothing was visible on the surface of the great mass
of avalanche debris.

On our expedition there were 14 people, all of whom were in the
Palandoken area that day, just outside the garrison town of Erzerum,
700 miles east of Istanbul. But only five had been skiing in our
close-knit group: myself and Robert and expedition leader David
Hamilton, along with ex-soldier Alun Davies and Alpine Ski Club
secretary Alasdair Ross. We could not see any of them.

With wind speeds increasing to over 70mph, the spindrift snow blowing
in the air meant visibility was extremely poor. The only sensible
course of action was to assume that all three had been buried.

Robert and I jettisoned our skis and pulled out our avalanche
transceivers, putting them into search mode as we criss-crossed the
avalanche fallout area, the size of a football field, hunting for an
electronic signal that would indicate the position of a body.

Within two minutes Robert heard a series of bleeps and at that
point just under the surface of the snow we could see someone buried
vertically, head up, feet down. I pulled out my shovel and after a
short period of ferocious digging Alun Davies’s head was freed and
to my immense relief I could hear him breathing in fast, short gasps

“Breathe more slowly, if you can,” I suggested as David arrived from
out of the storm to help get rid of the massive weight of snow still
compressing Alun’s chest. By some miracle David had ridden the surface
of the avalanche and managed to cast off both his rucksack and skis,
preventing the snow from dragging him under.

David reckoned that a group of four other members of our expedition,
led by Dr Rodney Franklin, had successfully skied through the very
gulley which had avalanched about five minutes before we had entered
it. This meant that the only person known to be missing was our
companion Alasdair Ross.

I started a new electronic search with a sinking feeling and about
12 minutes after the avalanche had occurred I found a second signal,
coming from agonisingly deep below the surface.

Overcome by a feeling of the need for urgency I shouted: “I need
help. Time is vital. We must get him out as soon as possible”.

I knew from experience that the first 20 minutes in an avalanche
rescue often makes the difference between life and death. But the
hard-set snow was so unbelievably heavy and the angle so difficult
that it took several of us many minutes to complete the strenuous,
and heartrending task of digging Alasdair out.

When at last we managed to free his head and chest, it seemed to both
me and Dr Franklin, who had arrived from below, that Alasdair must
have died from asphyxiation almost the moment the avalanche struck.

I will never forget Alasdair’s face when at last we got him out. He
looked so tranquil and, at the same time, like a waxwork. Only the
night before I had sat next to him at dinner and we had chatted with
animation of past ski trips and adventures the evening through.

An army team arrived and took over the rescue, placing Alasdair on
a stretcher. The avalanche had occurred just over 100metres from the
safety of a military post.

At last I was able to gather my thoughts and I remember thinking:
“Pride comes before a fall!” Only the day before I had been cock-a-hoop
after a personal success on my very first mountain adventure in
Turkey. Robert Mulder and I had arrived late in the Palandoken range
and from the top of the main ski station we cast our eyes to the
horizon at the steepest and seemingly most unclimbable of mountains
and then to each other’s surprise set off at speed towards it with
unreasoned optimism.

Six hours later we were taking off our skis and the skins attached
to them, to climb the final steep summit pyramid of what the lone
Kurdish family living in its shadow had called Yavkaz Kayuz (the
Impossible Peak).

The achievement had been made doubly satisfying because of our firm
belief we would never get to the mountain at all in the time available,
let alone manage to climb the precipitous rocks to the top.

In the gathering dusk we had a sensational ski down into the main
valley. Six and a half hours to the summit. Less than twenty minutes
down.

On the way back we visited our Kurdish friends in their snug
underground farmhouse for tea, before heading back to meet our
companions in Erzerum.

The next day, the day of the avalanche, all fourteen members of the
expedition, led by the Scottish ski mountaineer David Hamilton, were
back among the peaks of Palandoken continuing the programme to get
fit for our main objective, the ascent of Mt Ararat, a giant volcano
close to the Iranian and Armenian borders.

For much of the last 35 years it has been out of bounds due to a
series of wars in the area and the claim by the Armenians that it
belonged to them and not to Turkey.

As we set off the wind was, if anything, stronger than the evening
before, constantly blowing us over on our skis. It was surprisingly
warm with worrying patches of orange in the snow, sand blown by the
hot wind all the way from the Sahara. We could see the occasional
tell-tale sloughs of snow on slopes of 30 degrees and above. Perfect
avalanche conditions.

Just before we got to the bridge close to our Kurdish friends’
farmhouse, some of us wondered aloud whether any sane ski mountaineer
would be out in such conditions. Looking back, the weather was so
wild and so warm that we should have all stayed at home. But we were
here on the trip of a lifetime, trying to cram in as much adventure
as possible and we were all so keen to get ready for the big mountain.

Now Alasdair was dead.

At 59, unmarried and with no children, he was a fanatical
skier who loved indulging his passion in the wilder parts of the
world. Unfortunately, when we got him out he had stopped breathing
and all attempts to resuscitate him failed.

By the time darkness fell and Alasdair was on his way to the mortuary
in Erzerum the wind on the mountain was gusting over 100mph, ripping
the roofs off several local buildings in one of the worst storms of
the winter.

Those of us closely involved in the rescue then made a lengthy report
to the nearby army post and it was only when showing his passport
to a friendly intelligence officer that David Hamilton realised that
the greatest tragedy ever to take place on an expedition run by him
had occurred on his own birthday.

That evening we all gathered in our hotel to decide whether to abandon
the expedition altogether or whether to continue. It was the stoic
and, perhaps wise, ex-soldier Alun Davies, who so narrowly escaped
death himself, who carried the day.

“After I was buried somehow I accepted the inevitability of death. It’s
the second time I have been avalanched in three years. But there was
still a feint hope and by some miracle I was rescued.

“Alasdair was not so lucky. But he lived for the mountains. It’s a risk
we all take. I am a soldier and I have seen death. There is nothing
to be gained by being maudlin, giving up and going home. He would not
have wanted that. Let’s all go and get drunk and tell stories about
him. Tomorrow we continue!”

The next day half of the expedition members decided their heart was
no longer in it and made arrangements to return home immediately. The
others, including myself, decided to carry on.

Everyone’s reasons for staying or going were very personal and not
easy to define.

As president of the Alpine ski club Rupert Hoare decided he had to
attend Alasdair’s funeral. Others felt there would be no joy left in
the struggle against the elements when a friend had died. Some had
felt they had to talk to Alasdair’s relations to try and ease their
grief. Some simply felt fear in the patently dangerous conditions in
the Turkish mountains.

All I can say is I would not want anyone to stop an expedition for me
and would much prefer my companions to drink large amounts of local
spirits and tell stories of my most outrageous or defining moments.

Two weeks later four of the six who continued made it to the top of
Mt Ararat after a storm had cast a blanket of snow over the great
dormant volcano, though nobody was able to ski the final 1,000metres.

No-one pretended it had been a successful expedition.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

BAKU: Azeri leader vows more funding for army in exclave

Azeri leader vows more funding for army in exclave

ANS TV, Baku
14 May 04

[Presenter] Within the framework of his visit to Naxcivan, Azerbaijani
President Ilham Aliyev today attended a ceremony to mark the 80th
anniversary of the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic. We are over to
Naxcivan now. ANS’s special correspondent Qanira Pasayeva is on the
line. Hello, Qanira.

[Correspondent on the phone] Hello, Qanira.

[Presenter] What issues did the president touch on in his speech?

[Correspondent] First, the chairman of the Supreme Majlis [parliament]
of the Naxcivan Autonomous Republic, Vasif Talibov, delivered a
speech. I want to note that this ceremony was attended mainly by the
ambassadors and charges d’affaires of different foreign countries to
Azerbaijan and representatives of international organizations. Talibov
concentrated on Naxcivan’s history and cited as an example the facts
that the Armenians have been trying to distort history and present
this land [Naxcivan] as their own.

[Passage omitted: Ilham Aliyev spoke about Naxcivan’s history]

In his speech, Ilham Aliyev said that Naxcivan was a blockaded
autonomous republic and drew international organizations’ attention
to this issue. He went on to say that the main focus of attention in
Naxcivan would be the build-up of the army and the acceleration of
social and economic progress.

[Passage omitted: New enterprises to open in Naxcivan; other minor
details]

The president touched on the Karabakh conflict again and ruled out any
agreement if Azerbaijan’s territorial integrity is not maintained,
the occupied lands are not liberated and the refugees do not return
to their land. He said that the recent stance of international
organizations had encouraged his hope that the problem can be resolved
peacefully. However, he stressed that the build-up of the army would
continue to develop and more funds would be allocated to the army as
the economy is developing and incomes are increasing.

[Passage omitted: Transport and industrial complexes to be developed
in Naxcivan]

BAKU: Azeri Speaker, US military discuss OSCE Minsk Group activities

Azeri Speaker, US military discuss OSCE Minsk Group activities so far

ANS TV, Baku
13 May 04

[Presenter] The hitherto activities of the OSCE Minsk Group, which
has accepted the mediating mission on the solution to the Nagornyy
Karabakh conflict, will be inspected. Inspectors from the USA have
already arrived in Baku.

[Correspondent, over video of the meeting between the US inspectors
and Azeri delegation] Representatives of the US National War College
said they had arrived in Baku to inspect the activities of the OSCE
Minsk Group which accepted the mediating mission on the resolution
of the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict. Commander in the US Navy Forces,
Vincent McBeth, wanted Azerbaijani Speaker Murtuz Alasgarov to answer
this question.

[Macbett, speaking in English with Azeri voice-over] We want to
learn. A few years have elapsed. What has the OSCE Minsk Group done
for the resolution of the Nagornyy Karabakh conflict and what impact
has it had?

[Correspondent, over video] Here is Azerbaijani Speaker Murtuz
Alasgarov’s response.

[Alasgarov] No progress is being noticed in the OSCE Minsk Group’s
activities. The Minsk Group was appointed to tackle the problem in
view of its essence and in line with internaltional legal norms. Why
was the Minsk Group organized if it stands on the sidelines in the
process and lays the blame on both sides?

[Correspondent] Alasgarov urged Washington to apply sanctions against
Armenia the aggressor and sent a message to international organizations
calling on them to abandon double standards. He addressed another
request to US President George Bush.

[Alasgarov] I am convinced that the US leadership, including incumbent
President Bush will once again review the situation and take a humane
step towards the full suspension of Section 907 [ to the Freedom
Support Act banning direct US government assistance to Azerbaijan]

[Correspondent] The military men, who came from the USA, promised to
deliver this request to the Bush administration.

Afat Telmanqizi, Azar Qarayev, ANS.

BAKU: US calls on Azerbaijan, Armenia to tackle conflict settlement

US CALLS ON AZERBAIJAN, ARMENIA TO TACKLE CONFLICT SETTLEMENT

AssA-Irada, Azerbaijan
May 13, 2004

National Security Adviser to the US President Condoleezza Rice
was quoted as saying on Thursday that the United States would like
the governments of Azerbaijan and Armenia to seriously tackle the
Upper Garabagh conflict. She said the “long-protracted” conflict is
negatively affecting both Azerbaijan and Armenia in terms of economic
and political development.

Shortly before her visit to Russia, Rice said she intends to discuss
with official Moscow prospects for the conflict settlement. “We
are working closely with Russia to resolve a number of conflict
situations. I think we all were somewhat disappointed with the fact
that this has not been done in Upper Garabagh”, she said.

BAKU: Discussion of NK report might be delayed

DISCUSSION OF UPPER GARABAGH REPORT MIGHT BE DELAYED

AssA-Irada, Azerbaijan
May 13, 2004

An Azerbaijani member of the CE Parliamentary Assembly, MP Bakhtiyar
Aliyev was quoted as saying on Thursday that the Azerbaijani
representatives have recently met with nominees for the CE secretary
General position to become familiar with their program of activity.
“Along with our adherence to European principles, we will consider
Azerbaijan’s national interests”, he said. If the CE PA rapporteur on
Upper Garabagh Terry Davis is elected the CE Secretary General, the
discussions concerning the Upper Garabagh conflict may be postponed.
Aliyev explained the delaying discussion with the fact that CE has
recognized Armenian as an aggressor state and added that the Armenian
lobby aspires to put off such a discussion.

The appointment of the new CE Secretary General is expected in June.

BAKU: Azeri, Georgian, Armenian speakers to meet in Strasbourg

AZERI, GEORGIAN, ARMENIAN SPEAKERS TO MEET IN STRASBOURG

AssA-Irada, Azerbaijan
May 13, 2004

Speakers of the Azerbaijani, Georgian and Armenian parliaments are
planned to meet in Strasbourg next week.

A source from the Milli Majlis (parliament) told AssA-Irada that the
trilateral meeting was scheduled to be arranged during the visit
of the Council of Europe member states’ speakers to Strasbourg on
May 17-19. A number of issues including that of the Upper Garabagh
conflict will be discussed during the meeting.

BAKU: FM Stresses conflict aftermath

FM STRESSES CONFLICT AFTERMATH

AssA-Irada, Azerbaijan
May 13, 2004

Foreign Minister Elmar Mammadyarov is visiting Strasbourg to attend the
114th session of the Council of Europe (CE) Ministerial Committee. In a
meeting with the CE Secretary General Walter Schwimmer on Wednesday,
Mammadyarov elaborated on the work underway towards solving the
Armenian-Azerbaijani conflict over Upper Garabagh.

The Foreign Ministry told AssA-Irada that in a meeting with the CE
Ministerial Committee’s Ago monitoring group, Mammadyarov spoke of
the efforts Azerbaijan has taken to fulfill its commitments to the
CE as well as of prospects for settling the Upper Garabagh conflict.

Addressing the session, Mammadyarov spoke of the outstanding political
issues and the reformation of the European Court for Human Rights
(ECHR). He said that the CE plays a crucial role in promoting the
undivided Europe and stated Azerbaijan’s position on the issue.

Mammadyarov noted that the Upper Garabagh conflict had caused serious
hurdles in the development of the South Caucasus region and emphasized
the initiatives taken by Azerbaijan to solve these problems. On the
first day of the session, a statement on long-term productivity of the
ECHR and the 14th protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights
were adopted. Later in the day, foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and
Armenia met at the CE Office in France. The meeting was also attended
by the OSCE Minsk Group co-chairs.

Ilkham Aliyev is determinate to return Karabakh

Ilkham Aliyev is determinate to return Karabakh
Bby Maksim Yusin

RusData Dialine – Russian Press Digest
May 14, 2004 Friday

SOURCE: Izvestia, No 83, p.1

Azeri president threatens Armenia with war

The Azerbaijan’s President Ilkham Aliyev speaking Wednesday at the
opening ceremony of a military garrison said that his country is
determinate to reclaim the province of Nagorny Karabakh, a disputed
territory now controlled by Armenia.

Aliyev said that “the Azeri people and its army can at any moment
take steps to restore the territorial integrity of the country.
International law gives us right to do it. Azerbaijan will strive to
resolve the conflict over Nagorny Karabakh through negotiations. But
if we see that any further dialogue brings no results, we will liberate
the occupied territories at all costs.”

The Azeri president made his harsh statement on May 12 – the tenth
anniversary of the ceasefire between Armenians and Azerbaijanis in
Nagorny Karabakh, therefore his words are to be taken most seriously.
Yet, Izvestia writes that neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia need a new
war, and the peace negotiations, however difficult they might be,
will probably continue.

Kocharian has problems

Agency WPS
What the Papers Say. Part B (Russia)
May 14, 2004, Friday

KOCHARJAN HAS PROBLEMS

SOURCE: Vremya Novostei, May 14, 2004, p. 5

by Arkady Dubnov

President Robert Kocharjan of Armenia is visiting Moscow. Kocharjan
is the first Caucasus leader to meet with Vladimir Putin since his
inauguration. He will meet with Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister
Mikhail Fradkov today. Yesterday, he met with Alexei Miller, CEO of
Gazprom. The visitor also expects to meet with Igor Materov of ITERA.

The natural gas problem is no longer an economic issue for Armenia;
it is geopolitical. Yerevan wants gas from Moscow and also from Iran.
It even hopes to provide Iranian pipeline transit in future. Ukraine
also wants Iranian gas. All of these routes will bypass Russia, and
the Kremlin has some question for Armenia, known as one of Russia’s
most loyal allies in the CIS.

Putin and Kocharjan will also discuss the situation in the Caucasus.
This is the subject where the visitor will be asking questions
because the consequences of the Revolution of Roses in Georgia cannot
help worrying him.

Like Georgia not long ago, Armenia – that is, Kocharjan – has serious
problems with the opposition that demands the president’s
resignation. A large demonstration will take place in Yerevan today.
On April 13, the Armenian authorities dispersed a demonstration
staged by the opposition and the political crisis in this country
entered a new phase. On April 28, the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe (PACE_ adopted a resolution giving Kocharjan three
months to release the opposition activists arrested on April 13. The
PACE will insist on economic sanctions against Yerevan otherwise. All
this explains why Robert Kocharjan needs Moscow’s support so badly.
To secure it, he may have to sacrifice something. According to our
sources, the matter may concern a controlling interest in
Armrosgazprom for Gazprom (these days, Gazprom controls a 45% stake,
ITERA 10%, and Armenia the remaining 45%; the subject may have been
discussed by Kocharjan in Moscow yesterday).

Presidents Putin and Kocharjan will discuss Nagorno-Karabakh as well.
No sensational developments are expected in this particular sphere.

Translated by A. Ignatkin

Fradkov: Russia Interested in Development of Relations with Armenia

Mikhail Fradkov: Russia Interested in Development of Relations with Armenia

RIA OREANDA
Economic News
May 14, 2004 Friday

Moscow. Russia is interested in the development of the relations
with Armenia and is ready to consider all the issues of bilateral
cooperation. RF Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov made the respective
statement in the course of the meeting with Armenian President Robert
Kocharian.

Our relations are positively developing in all the directions but at
the same time we have topics to discuss with each other in order to
discover new efficient opportunities for cooperation, Mr. Fradkov
said. We are ready to consider the topics on the agenda that will
contribute to the extension of the Russian-Armenian relations, the
Prime Minister assured.

Robert Kocharian, in his turn, noted that the volume of cooperation
between the two countries is rather wide and we managed to considerably
develop it recently.