On a Sunday afternoon in September I got a call from the World Harmony Run office in New York. They told me that one of our members had vanished in the Swiss Alps. They told me that Nabik Dan Hunt, 35, and two friends paraglided down from a high mountain called the Jungrau. The two friends landed safely but Nabik failed to arrive at the agreed landing site. The Jungfrau is one of the highest mountains in the Alps, with a dramatic drop in altitude of 3,000 m from the summit to the Lauterbrunnen Valley below. Later, I contacted Nabik’s mother who sent me an SMS that her son had flown down the Jungfrau using a “speed wing.” I realized immediately that this could be quite serious, and I started looking around for capable people to search in that high Alpine region.
I was a rock climber when I was in my teens, but stopped years ago. So I didn’t have any friends I could ask to join me in my search. But Ueli Steck came to mind. He is the top climber in that region of Switzerland. I sent him an SMS and he called me in the morning. As I was confused about “speed-wing” and “wing-suit” he told me, Nabik must have been speed-gliding or paragliding. He was speed flying using a fabric wing to descend from the Jungfrau Joch (11,333 feet ) at speeds of up to 75mph. Steck, who knows the weather and the thermals in that valley very well, said that at the time Nabik started his descent, on Saturday 15th September around 4 PM, conditions were less than ideal. Ueli said that the chances were slim that we would find him alive, but he advised us to search the glacier, as he might have fallen down a crevice right after he started. He said the second possiblity would be the lower part of a glaciated valley.
I left Zurich that morning, arriving at the Lauterbrunnen Police station, at the foot of the Jungfrau and closest to the area where Nabik went missing. Officer Nils Anderegg asked me to register the people coming to help with the search. He said, “We don’t want any more casualties. We have to know who is going where.” Tim Good, who was flying with Nabik, was the first of the helpers. He had already been searching for him for two nights and one day. He accompanied the Swiss rescue team (REGA) and the Swiss Army on helicopters that flew over the glacier until 2:30 am. Tim still looked very energetic. He used the energy of his despair to act very quickly, getting maps and constantly making phone calls to all of Nabik’s friends in the UK, France, Germany and Switzerland.
By noon a group of eight people had gathered outside of the police station. We decided to have three teams of two each to go and scale the glacier. Team “1” left first followed by Team “2” with Tim Good and Simon Egger. Team “3,” comprised of Nadeen Al-Khafaji and Tom Foote left later. In addition there were the four paragliders Valerie, Barry, Lisel and Rich. I quickly realized that among Nabik’s friends were some of the toughest and brightest people you could imagine. I was very touched by the story of Nadeen Al-Khafaji’s grandmother: At 11 pm the night before Nadeen called her and asked her to drive him to Lauterbrunnen, so he could join the search his friend. The night before I had heard from the police that after two days of helicopter flying Nabik’s insurance was exhausted. There was no more money for helicopter searches. On the way to Lauterbrunnen I contacted my boss, who agreed to fund an on going search and rescue operation. So by noon two helicopters were in the air, one was putting a team down with three dogs below the glacier. The other helicopter had been flying for two and a half hours along the glacier using an antenna for detecting mobile devises. Both teams had failed to pick up any sign of him.
When the helicopters came back at 4 PM, eight speed-flyers and paragliders left Jungfrau Joch from the Sphinx (3,571 Meters (11,716 ft) to re-fly the line where Nabik might have gone down. Benny Kälin, who runs “Chill Out Paragliding” in Interlaken, Switzerland, organised a flight from the Jungfrau down to Lauterbrunnen. He called me and said that the team checked the glacier and the crevasses in the high-alpine area. He suggested continuing searching further down in the valley, in the Trimmleten forest. Team “3” came back early from the glacier. Nadeem and Tom, who were supposed to go to the Guggi SAC Hut (2791 m), searching the glacier as they went, were too late to make it back to the return train. But this turned out to be good, as they had a chance to walk in the direction of the Trimmeleten forest and make some observations near the area where Nabik was eventually found.
My friend Felix had already spent 4 hours observing the forested area at the entrance of the Trümmeleten gorge. At 8 PM all the searchers met at the Chalet Rosa, where we were spending the night. We had a very intense 3 ½ hour meeting. After many calls to people who knew the Trimmleten forest that Simon and others made, we all agreed where to search next day: in the Trimmleten Gorge! I had to work the next day, so I was leaving Lauterbrunnen at 11:30 that night. On the way I was talking to Nabik’s father in England and also to his best friend Pedro. When I got back to Zurich at 3 am, I was repeating my parting words to the team: “Day four is a day of hope.”
It has been now three weeks since Nabik was found, and the whole thing is still confusing to me. Why? The same day they found Nabik, I had spent hours preparing myself for the call to his mother telling her he was dead. Although I was still hopeful, I had a lot more time to think since I wasn’t involved in the search any more. And realistically the possibility of finding him alive was reduced each hour he wasn’t found. The number of missing adventure sports enthusiasts still alive after three days of searching is very small. The odds were against him. I couldn’t stop thinking how unimaginably difficult and painful it would be to have to tell a mother that her child has died.
As I was discussing with a friend of the family how to transfer more money for helicopter searches when he got the news. I almost couldn’t believe it, although at the same moment I got an SMS from Nabik’s father: “Found alive, he is waving to them.” This news was so incredible that I first couldn’t believe it. This must be a miracle! Nabik was stranded in inaccessible gorge and was there during the three nights near sub-zero temperatures. And although he saw rescue helicopters that passed over him at least 15 times there was no way they could see him in that narrow and 250 feet deep gorge. Nils Anderegg, the Swiss policemen in Lauterbrunnen couldn’t believe it: “Nabik is very lucky. He is safe. He is healthy – he only hurt his foot.” Nabik was spotted by his friend Nadeem Al-Khafaji and was pulled up with a long-line by a helicopter from Air Glaciers. This was the last puzzle that started almost 70 hours early when Tim Good gave the alarm when Nabik didn’t land in the valley.
Being an athlete myself, I don’t criticise people who take risks. From the time I was ten until age seventeen I spent almost all of all my weekends and all my vacations in the Alps hiking, climbing or skiing. Just two weeks before Nabik got lost, I wanted to do a bike race over three Alpine passes. Even though it was raining heavily in the valley and there was snow on the passes, I wanted to go. I took it very hard, when the organisers cancelled it due to the cold, snow and danger. But on the other hand there are people who love you, and whom you love. So all these people who love Nabik – and there must be many – were suffering an “unimaginable nightmare” for almost 70 hours.
Now it is over! But still I can’t really understand what has happened. How could Dan survive for so many hours in that cold and humid gorge? What was it that drew some of the greatest people I have ever seen to Switzerland to search for him? When it comes to the successful rescue – how much was personal effort and how much was luck or grace? I can just speak for myself. It was the most intense day in my life. But I feel that the fact that Nabik was found has nothing to do with me. I gave what I had, but there must have been a greater force at work. And those who know Nabik better, realize that his spiritual master Sri Chinmoy, whose disciple he is for many years, might have had a say from the other world. Today it is exactly 5 years since Sri Chinmoy passed away.