Footage of Failed Mountain Rescue Prompts Probe

Prosecutors are investigating a failed attempt to rescue an Argentine climbing guide from a blinding snowstorm on the highest peak in the Americas after a video of the rescue expedition aired on national television in Argentina.

The nearly three-minute video shows 31-year-old Federico Campanini struggling on his hands and knees as he was tugged forward on a rope by five rescuers, while another filmed. As violent winds whipped snow across the rocky terrain, Campanini collapsed, and police said he died four hours later with a rescue member by his side.

The dramatic footage, aired repeatedly on television, has provoked public concern that rescuers could have done more on Aconcagua mountain, where more than 4,600 climbers attempted to summit last year. Two policemen and four volunteers on the rescue team were not speaking to the news media on Wednesday.

The guide's parents, Carlos and Monica Campanini, cited the video as proof that the six-member rescue crew allowed their son to die.

Carlos Campanini said the video, which was anonymously delivered to his lawyer a week ago, was excruciating to watch and he doesn't want another climber to be treated the same way.

"The people who were around him, let him down," Carlos Campanini told The Associated Press. "My son did everything he could to save himself. You could see his desperation to save his life because he had his plans, his ideals, his family and his wife."

But Antonio Ibaceta, who coordinated the operations from base camp for the Mendoza police force, said people viewing the video at home cannot fathom the conditions on the highest peak outside of Asia.

"The public has no right to condemn (the crew) in this way, when what they did was truly an act of solidarity" since the men volunteered for the rescue mission, Ibaceta said.

While most experienced climbers take three to four days to scale the 22,841-foot Aconcagua, the rescue crew surged to the top in one day and were suffering severe fatigue in the oxygen-deprived air and minus-58 degree temperatures, Ibaceta said. The video shows crew members stumbling and repeatedly saying how exhausted they are.

He said crews often film rescue efforts to improve subsequent operations and to use as legal evidence in the event of a death.

The prosecutor's office for Mendoza province confirmed it was investigating the rescue attempt and received a copy of the video, but declined to discuss further details.

Environmental Secretary Guillermo Carmona, who oversees Aconcagua park and its employees, emphasized the difficulty of the rescue.

"What can be seen in the video is that the rescue squad is trying to do its best amid the existing conditions to evacuate Federico Campanini," Carmona said.

Campanini already was in dire condition when rescuers arrived.

On Jan. 7, he and the four Italian climbers were caught in an afternoon snow storm and strayed from their route. An avalanche then killed an Italian woman and injured Campanini before help arrived to lead the hypothermic survivors down the mountain.

Carmona said the rescue team was in close contact by radio with a public prosecutor whose statements also will be part of the investigation.

Julio Suarez, police spokesman in Mendoza province, expressed concern that the investigation could discourage volunteers from joining future rescue efforts.

"They're going to say 'No, because someone can take me to court,"' Suarez said.

He said that in order to be free from charges of abandonment, every member of the rescue team has to be contributing to the best of his or her ability.

That raises questions about whether the person filming the video could have been helping instead. But Mario Gonzalez, founder of the Argentine Association of Mountain Guides, said the video was made in good faith.

"They didn't shoot the video to incriminate themselves as having abandoned someone," Gonzalez said. "I think they filmed it to crudely illustrate the severity of the situation ... for the rescue team, and the grave state of the victim."