Surviving climber safe at home

Updated: 2013-06-26 02:01

By Cui Jia in Urumqi (China Daily)

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Surviving climber safe at home

Zhang Jingchuan, a mountaineer who survived a Sunday terrorist attack in Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan area, hugs his wife on Tuesday at Urumqi International Airport, in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region. ZHANG WANDE / FOR CHINA DAILY 

Zhang Jingchuan wrapped his arms around his crying wife as soon as he walked out of the arrival area of Urumqi International Airport on Tuesday.

His flight from Islamabad, capital of Pakistan, landed in the Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region at 4:12 pm.

The 42-year-old mountaineer was the only Chinese climber to survive a pre-dawn terrorist attack in Pakistan's northern Gilgit-Baltistan area on Sunday.

The attack left 11 people dead, including two Chinese climbers on their way to conquering Nanga Parbat, the world's ninth-highest mountain. Jundullah, a group linked to the Pakistani Taliban, later claimed responsibility.

Twenty-four Pakistani climbers and 19 foreign nationals were evacuated by helicopter, according to Pakistan media, which reported that police have arrested 37 suspects.

Zhang held his wife in a long embrace on Tuesday amid a throng of reporters.

With his eyes hidden behind sunglasses, he spoke briefly to the press. "I'm fine," he said in a low voice when asked about the 5-centimeter wound on his head, where he was grazed by a terrorist bullet.

Zhang declined to talk about the attack, but his friend, An Shaohua, who was at the airport, repeated the details Zhang gave him during a phone call from Pakistan.

He said the attack came just after midnight, as the mountaineers rested in their tents at the base camp. Before Zhang had time to react, he had been tied up and dragged from his tent at gunpoint, An said.

At first, Zhang, a former soldier from Yunnan province, said he thought it was a robbery, but past experience told him it was more than that and he began to work out an escape plan.

After the terrorists had collected all the valuables, the shooting started, An said, recalling his friend's account. When Yang Chunfeng, a mountaineer from Xinjiang, was shot, Zhang was able to untie his rope and flee bare-footed.

"Zhang said he could feel bullets flying past his head," An told reporters, adding that he evaded the pursuing gunmen by jumping off a cliff and hiding. "He didn't realize he was wounded until he was rescued."

After the attackers had left, Zhang returned to base camp to fetch his clothes and a satellite phone. He then called a friend in Kunming, Yunnan province, at about 4 am.

"Without a military background, there is no way he would have survived this," An said.

Yang, 45, and Rao Jianfeng, 49, from Guangdong province, died in the attack. Their friends and relativities flew to Islamabad from Urumqi on Tuesday morning to collect their bodies.

"He called me several times after the attack, but only briefly because he didn't want me and our 11-year-old son to worry too much," said Zhang's wife, who gave her name as Wang. "I learned most of the details from the media. It was unavoidable."

Zhang's first stop after he landed was Yang's house in Urumqi to return some of Yang's belongings to his parents. He and his wife said they plan to return to Kunming on Wednesday.

To questions about his future, Zhang said he just wants to enjoy life with his wife. He did not answer when asked whether he will ever attempt another mountain challenge.