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Search for top Bulgarian mountaineer missing in bid to reach Tibetan summit

Boyan Petrov
Boyan Petrov Copyright B Petrov
Copyright B Petrov
By Michael Fiorentino
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18 years ago he survived cancer but developed diabetes while receiving chemotherapy; 3 years ago, he survived a coma after being struck by a car while researching wildlife in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria; now he is missing on a Tibetan mountain.


A last-ditch attempt to rescue one of Europe's most accomplished mountaineers is underway in Tibet.

Boyan Petrov, has been missing for over a week on the Tibetan peak of Shishapangma, the world’s 14th highest mountain at 8027 meters. Petrov was part of a group of ten climbers composed of 1 Hungarian, 5 Italians, and 4 Nepalese guides, when he separated on 29 April to attempt a solo summit without oxygen.

He was last seen via telescope at 7500 meters on 3 May as his team was returning to the lower camp due to worsening weather conditions. Petrov, 45, has already summited 10 of the 14 mountains over 8,000 meters, all without supplementary oxygen. Petrov was planning to conquer Mt. Everest as his next expedition and aims to become the 20th person on earth to summit all 14 eight-thousanders without oxygen.

On 5 May, a Ukrainian mountaineer and three Sherpas discovered Petrov’s open tent and sleeping bag by Camp 3, the highest camp on Shishapangma, suggesting Petrov shed his heavy gear to ascend to the peak. The three climbers waited for his return but soon needed to descend to the lower camp because of bad weather. Petrov is not carrying his satellite phone which has further complicated the situation.

“Boyan wouldn't take unnecessary risk, he wouldn't play with mortality. If he has gone towards the peak it means he knew he could make it. He is well-prepared, knows his limits and has experience,” Petrov’s partner, Radoslava Nenova said on BTV news in Sofia.

China has increased its rescue efforts by granting visas to two Nepalese pilots who will operate turbine-engine helicopters not available in Tibet. The permit was granted Thursday and is valid until 13 May. China allowing Nepalese helicopter assistance in a rescue mission is unprecedented.

The Bulgaria Consulate in Beijing has been informed three helicopters operated by Simrik Air Pvt. Ltd lifted off from the airport in Katmandu, Nepal at 0830 local time. One helicopter will remain in Nepal near the border to provide fuel to the other two helicopters, which will operate the rescue mission. The Bulgarian Embassy in New Delhi says that the two helicopters have reached the bottom of the mountain and are waiting for wind-speeds to decrease which will allow the aircraft to reach the needed height.

Renowned Sherpa and friend of Petrov, Mingma Sherpa was granted an emergency visa to China and will guide the two Nepalese helicopters in the rescue mission. Mingma has climbed Shishapangma twice already using both routes and is the first person to summit all of the world’s fourteen - 8000 m peaks on his first attempt. Mingma Sherpa told Darik News he believes Petrov has a 50/50 chance of still being alive and estimates he is located around an icy area above Camp 3.

One of Petrov’s team members, Deyan Petkov told Bulgarian National TV that another attempt of photographing the slope using satellite imagery will be tested today as cloud cover has partially cleared.

Petkov also said there is a land-rescue expedition taking place but at slow-pace due to the high winds. "They are aiming to stay at Camp 1 tonight and further their accent the next few days as they are expecting the weather to clear,” says Petkov.

Boyan Petrov is a respected zoologist who specializes in cave wildlife at the National Museum of Natural History in Sofia, Bulgaria. He has inspired many Bulgarians with his strong spirit and ability to recover. Eighteen years ago he survived cancer but developed diabetes while receiving chemotherapy treatment which also complicates his prolonged disappearance. Three years ago, Petrov survived a coma after being struck by a car while researching wildlife in the Pirin Mountains of Bulgaria.

“Alpinists have different survival abilities, they are not like people in the cities, he has real chance to be alive,” Radoslava Nenova said on BTV News in Sofia this morning, “but the window is closing, we need to find him now.”

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