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Aiden Webb search operation under fire for being "too slow"

By Nhung Nguyen   June 11, 2016 | 06:54 am PT
One day after the search for the British tourist Aiden Webb ended with his body being handed over to his family, a heated controversy has broken out online in Vietnam on whether or not the country’s rescue team were too slow.

The six-day search and rescue operation for the 22-year-old backpacker Aiden Webb has drawn international attention since he was reported missing on June 3 while attempting to climb Fansipan Mountain in northern Vietnam.

Before vanishing in the Hoang Lien Park, Webb was able to send his girlfriend a map of his whereabouts.

Responding to the search outcome, hundreds of readers commented on VnExpress.

According to Le Anh Dzung, Deputy Chief of Sa Pa District Police, the plan to mobilize a helicopter was ruled out due to bad weather conditions.

“We were obstructed by the treacherous terrain of Hoang Lien Park, the strong wind and thin air at high altitudes. Therefore, we could not send a helicopter to take his body and had to depend on human efforts.” Dzung spoke to the press on June 11.

A wide-scale search operation on the ground in Hoang Lien National Park was carried out one day after Webb was reported missing, with the participation of 200 rangers, police, trained dogs, and locals from San Sa Ho Hamlet, who know the area best.

Rescue team trying to carry Webb's body to the nearest cable cart before heading to Sapa. Photo by SunGroup.

Rescue team trying to carry Webb's body to the nearest cable cart before heading to Sapa. Photo by SunGroup.

A group of Vietnamese also helped by using camera drones to scour the area from a height of 2,800m.

The search on Fansipan Mountaint, dubbed "the roof of Indochina", turned out more difficult and involved more dangers than it may seem.

Giang Le, a member of the camera drone team who volunteered to join the search after the plea of Webb’s family, said in a post on his Facebook account:

“Pouring rain in the previous days made it harder for us to trek on the slippery mountainous terrain, not to mention all the heavy devices that our team had to carry along. […] We had to fly the drones in the windy and foggy weather for 20 minutes. We scoured over ravines and steep cliffs and almost lost two drones to strong winds and thick haze on the mountain. The first team sent a few members to the ground to search for him while drones would be flying above their heads to lead the way.”

Speaking to VnExpress, Giang Le added, “The unfavorable weather made all search activities difficult: thick haze of fog and canopies of tree leaves hampered the control signal to the drones. And even though we could zone the area to search within a few hundred meters based on the victim’s initial coordinates, the hilly terrain and the wet, slippery forest floor still made it really tough for everybody to move around on the ground.”

The drone team even tried to climb up the 45-meter high cable pylon No.4 in hope of detecting any sign of Aiden from above.

“It was a 45 meter pylon, erected near the highest mountain in the country. We were almost out of our breath on the way. The thin air at high altitudes only made the matter worse. Our legs were shaking and our hearts felt like they might beat out of our chests. We had to scream to lift up the spirit, some of us started to think about their family, their wives, and their kids at home. […] And then our team had to jump from the pylon into the cart, which looked just one meter away and was in the middle of the air. But for that young British who we all had never met, everybody took another risk and jumped,” shared Giang Le.

Fansipan is a favorite destination for Vietnamese and overseas trekkers.

Lonely Planet, the popular travel guide book described it as “accessible year-round to sensibly equipped trekkers in good shape, but don’t underestimate the challenge. It is very wet, and can be perilously slippery and generally cold.”

The guide advises against ascending the roof of Indochina if the weather in nearby town Sapa is poor. "Limited visibility on Fansipan can be treacherous," said the guide adding that hiring a reputable guide is "vital".

Many experienced Vietnamese trekkers believe that the British climber chose the hardest way to conquer the mountain, which resulted in extreme difficulties for the search operation.

Aiden Webb’s body was found on June 9, near the location that his girlfriend gave the local authorities. However, the rescue team could not access his position immediately.

“We found him at a narrow and deep ravine, surrounded by steep cliffs. There was no other way for our team to access him but climbing down from the Pylon 4.” A member of the rescue team who carried the victim out of the ravine to the nearest cable cart, police officer Nguyen Tuan Anh, told VnExpress.

“Even though it was just two kilometers away from the pylon, it took us three hours to reach to the victim because of heavy rain and rough terrain. It got dark once we got there, so there was nothing we could do but to stay at the scene waiting until the next morning,” said Tuan Anh.

The body of British backpacker was retrieved to Sapa District Hospital on June 10 before being handed over to his family.

The direct reasons that led to the death of 22-year-old British climber Aiden Webb have been confirmed as exhaustion, severe injuries after the fall and starvation in harsh weather, concluded Lao Cai provincial police on June 11 after post-mortem examination.

According to the representative of Lao Cai Police, the autopsy results showed no foul play was involved in his death.

No surgical autopsy was conducted at his family’s request and the handover procedure was completed in the same day.

Webb's father also offered a sum of money in payment for the effort of the rescue team, to which they declined, according to Nguyen Xuan Truong, deputy chairman of Sa Pa District People’s Committee.

Related news:

> The tough road to bring Aiden Webb home from the roof of Indochina

> Body of missing Brit Aiden Webb found on Mount Fansipan

> Drones, rescue dogs scour Mount Fansipan in search for missing Brit Aiden Webb

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