(ATTN: UPDATES with last phone conversation with Kim Hong-bin in last 3 paras; ADDS photo)
SEOUL, July 22 (Yonhap) -- Rescue authorities searching for a South Korean mountaineer who went missing in the Himalayas earlier this week have captured a signal from his satellite phone within the Chinese territory, informed officials here said Thursday.
Kim Hong-bin, who lost all of his fingers to frostbite about 30 years ago, reached the summit of the 8,047-meter-high Broad Peak located in the Karakoram Range on the Pakistani-Chinese border Sunday, ascending all 14 eight-thousanders in the Himalayas for the first time in the world as a disabled person.
But Kim went missing at a location about 7,900 meters above sea level during his descent. Nearby climbers from Russia spotted Kim the following day but failed to rescue him as a rope broke. He reportedly fell further down.
According to the officials, local rescue authorities picked up a signal from Kim's satellite phone at a location about 7,000 meters above sea level and 9 kilometers southeast of the 8,611-meter-high K2 mountain at 10:37 a.m. Monday (local time). They have also identified the detailed latitude and longitude of the presumed location of Kim's satellite phone. Kim is presumed to have fallen off a cliff on the Chinese side of Broad Peak, which is about 8 km from K2.
They said it is still unknown whether Kim is near the satellite phone. "We cannot reach Kim on the satellite phone. It has not been confirmed whether Kim is in the presumed location or whether only his phone is there," an official said.
They said search and rescue have been very difficult, as the presumed location is an ice wall with an inclination of 80 degrees.
Moreover, rescue helicopters have yet to approach the presumed location due to very bad weather conditions, they noted.
Kim lost all 10 of his fingers due to frostbite while climbing up the 6,194-meter-high Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America, in 1991. But he overcame his disability with an indomitable will and a fighting spirit to become the world's first disabled person to conquer the highest mountains on the seven continents.
Meanwhile, three South Korean mountaineers will soon leave for the Himalayas to participate in the search for Kim, the officials said. Two mountaineers from the Gwangju Alpine Federation in the southwestern city, to which Kim belongs, and one from the Korea Alpine Federation, will leave for the Himalayas on Monday, they said.
Kim's wife tearfully pleaded for the swift search and rescue of her husband in a news conference in Gwangju, 330 km south of Seoul.
"He is a strong man who has overcome many difficulties. I heard he was clearly conscious and had precise judgment in his last call (with a junior mountaineer). The current situation is not very good, but I do not give up hope," she said.
Kim reportedly used his satellite phone after his accident to call the junior mountaineer in South Korea on Monday morning and said, "I need two Jumar (ascender) and a walkie-talkie. It's very frigid here."
The wife asked South Korea's foreign ministry and other government officials and the Pakistani government to extend full support to the search and rescue of Kim.
"The local weather was bad, but it got better today. Rescue can be completed if a helicopter can cross the Chinese border. I believe he can return if (swift) measures are taken," she said.
Two Pakistani army helicopters are currently on standby at a city near Broad Peak, while a Chinese rescue team also arrived Wednesday near the accident site.
The junior mountaineer known to have last spoken to Kim also attended the news conference, saying his consciousness was clear at that time.
"Kim's voice sounded tired but I thought it was normal. I didn't feel anything strange. I thought his consciousness was clear and his judgment ability was also clear," mountaineer Cho Byeok-rae said.
Cho said he asked if Kim's satellite phone has sufficient battery power left and Kim replied, "It's enough." He also said Kim provided the exact location of his accident to him and he immediately relayed the information to the base camp.