After four days of fatigue, toil and cold, the mission to find the body of a Chinese tourist on Mt Kenya ended in a landmark airlift on Thursday.
A team of six endured a three-day hike through treacherous terrain to retrieve the body of 33-year-old Fang Wenchao, who died while attempting to reach the peak of Africa’s second highest mountain.
Shortly after a one-and-a-half kilometre ascend on Sunday around 3 pm, Wenchao and his guide David Muigai took the decision to head down.
KWS Assistant Director in charge of Conservation Simon Gitau said during descent, communication is vital as only one person can be on a rope at any given time. He also headed the rescue team.
Mr Muigai said he signalled Wenchao to inform him that he was safely off the lifeline and he could advance down.
“The next thing I saw was the tourist falling. He hit a rock after about 30 metres and fell another three metres,” Mr Muigai said, adding that he climbed down, about 200ft to where Wenchao was, and found he was dead.
Mr Muigai said that after securing the body, he descended to Shipton Camp around 10 pm to report the accident.
On Monday afternoon, a team of about 20 hikers was put together to get the body from the mountain.
The initial plan was to carry the body from the peak by a team of six. A second team would carry the body to a van at Old Moses Camp.
The team went to retrieve the body from where it had been kept. One of the hikers Simon Thumuni strapped the body on himself and climbed on slippery rocks to a higher ground.
Around 8.15 am on Wednesday, Tropic Air pilot Ben Simpson and his colleague Tim Flowers made the decision to attempt a first airlift at almost 17,000ft above sea level.
“At 17,000ft, the helicopter is strained. Most alpine rescues in Europe are done at about 14000ft,” he said.
Mr Simpson kept watching the clouds. A few minutes to 8.30 am, the pair took off from Nanyuki.
“To let the team prepare the body and strap it to the stretcher, we flew away. Once they were done, they radioed us and we came back,” the pilot said.
Mr Flowers hung on the chopper’s side and had to be the eyes of the pilot and ensure the body was hooked properly to the long line.
The entire operation took about 25 minutes.
Wenchao’s body was flown to Sirimon Gate where his family, KWS and police received it.
A postmortem was carried out at Nanyuki mortuary.
The body will be cremated Friday.