A north-east climber feared dead on one of the world’s highest mountains was rescued by a drone after spending 36 hours alone near its summit.
Rick Allen, from Aboyne, was returning from a solo climb to the 8,047m (26,401ft) summit of Broad Peak, in the Himalayas, when he fell from an ice cliff.
The 63-year-old was starting to descend in half-light when disaster struck.
He said: “I was climbing down and I just dropped. Either I broke through a snow bridge or something happened that I hadn’t picked up and I fell. I had no idea how far.
“I must have passed out on impact as I had no memory of landing at all.
“I realised I hadn’t broken anything and then eventually after an indeterminate amount of time I came round and I was a bit worried.”
Rick was left stranded and alone in plummeting temperatures of around -15C for what would become 36 hours and was forced to eat snow in a bid to stay alive.
After gaining consciousness and checking he had not broken any bones, he bravely began his descent down the mountain, despite drifting in and out of consciousness and being severely dehydrated.
He said: “This was now the second night with no sleep and I was very dehydrated.
“I drifted in and out of consciousness and sleep. At one point I was imagining myself in a position of comfort and safety and I took my rucksack off and it wasn’t there any more.”
The experienced climber later retrieved his belongings but was then faced with a climb back up from where he had recovered them, in an area split by a number of ice cliffs.
He was slowly making his way diagonally back up the mountain when a drone appeared over his right shoulder, flown by Polish climber Bartek Bargie.
Rick said: “They’d heard I’d gone missing and launched the drone and it came up and found me. They knew I was alive.
“I continued to climb upwards and the drone appeared again so I felt very encouraged.
“I rounded this shoulder and got a first view of camp three, which was my goal.
“I could see guys coming up towards me and they started shouting my name.
“They made their way towards me and we got back to camp three. It was a moment of great relief.”
Over the next two days, Rick and his rescuers continued to descend until they met with a commercial mountain team.
Rick said: “I got back to base camp which was great and they were all extremely relieved to see me. One or two had given up on me.”
Climber David Roeske, who was at camp three, blogged about the drama, which began on July 9.
He said: “We heard a radio call that a missing climber needed rescued high on the mountain.
“He had fallen off an ice cliff and been solo on the mountain for 36 hours without a stove to melt water. The climber had been presumed dead until a drone pilot from K2 base camp spotted him still moving and off route.
“We headed first down then up the mountain with rope, water and medicine looking for him and were later joined by Tenji Sherpa from Summit Climb.
“With the help of the drone pilot we were able to eventually locate him in very dangerous terrain — a fall would’ve taken him either down a crevasse or all the way to the base of the mountain — and the three of us got him down and into a tent at camp three just as it was getting dark.”
A doctor looked Rick over at the base camp before deciding he should make an early exit by helicopter on Saturday.
By Sunday he was back safely in his home in Aboyne, where he is being treated for frostbite, but otherwise has escaped with just a scar above his eye. When asked if the experience had put him off climbing in the region again, the seasoned climber said “not at all”, adding as soon as he came to he realised that he was the only person who could get himself out of there.
He added: “It was enormously encouraging when the drone appeared. It was a fantastic effort by everyone at base camp and an interesting use of drone technology.
“There was no doubt in my mind that I would survive but it was bizarre how quickly I lost consciousness of what was going on around me. I have a very strong will to survive.”