A German mountaineer was saved at the last minute in a dramatic rescue operation in the Austrian Alps after being trapped in freezing temperatures for five days.
The 45-year-old, named only as Henning K under local privacy laws, became trapped after falling more than 60 feet into a narrow crevasse.
Rescuers told on Friday how Henning K was on his last legs and had given up hope of being saved when they found him in the early hours of Thursday morning.
“When he saw us above, he reacted very emotionally: it was a mixture of weeping and laughing. I had to fight back tears myself,” Christian Egger of the Gosau mountain rescue service said.
“He wasn’t really expecting to be rescued any more. He had sort of given up,” he told Oberösterreichische Nachrichten newspaper.
The mountaineer was only found after mountain rescue teams traced a series of calls that did not connect to his mobile phone. He had carefully preserved the battery but did not have a strong enough signal to make a call.
Henning K had travelled from his native Duisburg, an industrial city on the Rhine, to the Austrian Alps on a mountaineering holiday. He was climbing the 7,500 foot Dachstein mountain, near Salzburg, when he became trapped.
He was half an hour from the summit last Saturday when he slipped and fell into the deep crevasse, whose entrance was hidden under a covering of snow.
It was two days before anyone realised he was missing. His last contact had been earlier on Saturday with his father, who assumed he was still in the mountains and unreachable.
On Monday, his father became concerned and contacted the German police, who relayed the missing person report to their colleagues in Austria.
By then, Henning K had been trapped in the three-foot wide crevasse for more than 48 hours. “It was dark and then light again, he even saw a blue sky above, but there was no answer,” one of the rescuers told journalists.
Austrian police tracked down a car he had rented in Vienna thanks to a SIM card installed inside. It was already buried in snow when they found it in a car park near the mountain. Realising Henning K was lost somewhere above, they ordered a full-scale rescue operation.
But with no clear idea of where he was, rescuers were struggling. Then a local police officer noticed a number of dropped calls had been made to the local emergency number without properly connecting.
“It was pure gut feeling,” the officer, Günter Reischl said. “I sensed there was something in it.” He sent an SMS from his mobile phone to the number.
It was Henning K trying to get through. He sent his GPS coordinates in an SMS.
Mountain rescuers set off the site at midnight in severe weather conditions, with more than three feet of fresh snow and heavy fog. Four hours later, they found Henning K.
The German had survived on protein bars he was carrying but was suffering from severe thirst. His body temperature had dropped to 35C and he was in danger of hypothermia.
Mr Egger, the leader of the rescue team, waited with Henning K in the crevasse until he could be lifted out and transported to hospital by helicopter.
“It was very emotional. He was shaking, crying and laughing,” Mr Egger said.
Henning K is now recovering in intensive care. Doctors said he was in good condition considering his experience, and had not suffered major trauma in the fall.