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The Pilot's ring

Argentina, Patagonia. 

The Pilot's ring. Story from the base of Fitz Roy. 

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Everything that happens in our life is not an accident. I think that the mechanics of chance are a huge number of interconnected and influencing factors which are subordinate to some higher law that can act passively, or sometimes actively involves in our lives, making us to wonder.

Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia

Random accidents do not exist at all - this is the philistine, lazy point of view - that everything happens just like that, by itself. It just happens - but only in the way how it should happen. We cannot understand the mechanisms that control these accidents. As a rule, we do not pay attention to small events, coincidences - we attribute them to the will of chance. But sometimes that will is so obvious, logical, that only a completely blind person cannot pay attention to it.

Mount Fitz Roy as it seen from El Chalten town

This story, in which completely different people were acting, began almost a year ago, in remote and inaccessible corner of the Argentinean Andes. As a mountain guide I was leading the planned ascent to Mount Fitz Roy from the North side and nothing predicted that a rather difficult climb would become a plot of a real human story, making us witnesses of the tragedy and connecting with the lives of totally strange people.

In the National park of Cierro Torre - Patagonia Argentina

An attempt to take a video using a quadrocopter a few days ago ended unsuccessfully - the connection with the drone got broken, and it did not return to the take-off point. However, remained some chances of finding the drone as I got the coordinates of the place where the connection was lost. Expecting to find at least fragments of the quadrocopter, we went to the point indicated by the coordinates - about a kilometer from our camp on the glacier, close to the small rocky pass between Fitz Roy and Cerro Torre. This place, with all the heartbreaking beauty of the landscapes, cannot be called popular or at least often visited. I would say that there is absolutely nothing to do here - all the routes to the neighboring peaks go aside, and the descent into the neighboring gorge - 600 meters of a vertical wall - does not represent anything attractive for the tourists or trekkers.

Pilot's ring. Argentina, Patagonia, climbing Fitz Roy

The climb to the pass was neither steep nor particularly difficult - good weather, rare thing for Patagonia, provided us with ideal conditions - snow melted under the day sun and got frozen in the night, so in the morning it was nice and safe way up the glacier. Clear blue sky, tranquility on the air, only snow creaked under the points of our crampons.

We almost climbed the pass when something strange and disturbing appeared in the surrounding mountain atmosphere. Feeling of slight discomfort, one might say. A minute later, distinct note of something burning appeared in the air. It smelled of smoke. Honestly, it is what you do not expect – smell of smoke in such a place where a human foot rarely steps. We climbed a little higher, and among the rocks of the pass discerned inappropriate outlines of a burnt cabin and twisted blades of a crashed helicopter. The search for the missing drone turned into a much more serious find.

Pilot's ring. Argentina, Patagonia, climbing Fitz Roy

Inspecting the wreckage did not bring to us an understanding of what had happened. Judging by the mark on the base of the propeller, it used to be a small Robinson. There were no signs of living or dead people around, although it was hard to believe that someone could survive in such crash. The helicopter completely burned out, almost turning into ash. Also it was not so easy to determine the time of the catastrophe – there was a feeling that this tragedy happened just yesterday. A strong smell of smoke was hanging in the air, the ashes were not disturbed by the wind and rain..

Pilot's ring. Argentina, Patagonia, climbing Fitz Roy

In general, there was nothing unusual in our find – I have seen crashed helicopters before, and we had to report to the police after descent to El Chalten. But, being an intuitive person, I felt that it was not so simple thing. Somewhere here was the reason why we went directly to the wreckage. We could pass by even not seeing it, our point was 200 meters to the left. So there was something that needed us to be here. At first, I thought that someone needs our help here. But the quick search around did not give results. There was no one here. At least physically.

Then I felt a strange impulse like if someone pulled my hand, and turning over the melted metal piece, I foresaw the find. Somehow, internally, I had no doubt that something was under this piece of aluminum that I need to find. I thought it might be a number plate, or something which could make us to understand what happen here. It was the first, obvious oddity of this story. The important thing is that I knew about the find in advance. And there was no surprise when, under a piece of fuselage, in the black ashes flashed a golden ring. There was no need even to search. A small gold wedding ring, with the name engraved on the inner side - MONICA.

Pilot's ring. Argentina, Patagonia, climbing Fitz Roy

Now the chain of events acquired some logic. Finding the ring with a personalized engraving at the scene of the tragedy put made me responsible to understand what happened and return the ring to the one to whom it belonged. The value of this message lay in the unusual and dramatic circumstances of the find. Other options just did not exist. It was clear that all the events were interwoven into one chain. One could probably not touch the ring and leave everything as it is. Or take it and bring to a pawnshop to get some extra penny. Or take it to the police. However, the feeling of personal responsibility was too obvious - this thing was there for me, and I have to make everything work in accordance with some unclear but important scenario.

Pilot's ring. Argentina, Patagonia, climbing Fitz Roy

After finding the ring, I felt sort of sense of partial accomplishment of some mission. Our drone was found safe and sound 200 meters from the crashed helicopter - having lost the connection, it could not fly around a huge rock, and just landed on some flat space near it. But this was no longer what was surprising in this story.

The rocky verticals of Patagonia

My visit to the police department in El Chalten gave no explanation and added some mystics to the story. Without any complications the commissariat gave me all the materials on the accident at the mountain pass – I really was shocked as an accident happen not a few days ago, as it seemed to us, but 5 years ago! There were two in the helicopter that crashed. The pilot die, the passenger escaped. But I saw it with my own eyes - smoking ashes and a strong smell of smoke. What was it? How could helicopter smoke 5 years after the accident?! About finding the ring I decided not to talk in the police, just took all the info of the participants in the tragedy. I decided not to pass the responsibility to the others and complete the mission by myself - that would be the right way.

Icebergs in the lake at the base of Cierro Torre

Searching in the archives of several local newspapers, I restored the outline of events that occurred 5 years ago. On the rescue alert on December 14, 2014, a small private helicopter Robinson 44 with tail number LV-ZHW, managed by the pilot Pablo Argiz, flew out of El Calafat to the Cerro Torre glacier, the second in the crew was the local mountain rescuer Martín Heredia. They were going to rescue a climber who broke his leg after falling into crevasse on the glacier. At the time of the alert, the weather was suitable for the flight, but Patagonia is a completely unpredictable area in the weather aspect, specially characterized by the violent winds. When trying to fly over the mountain pass from the Rio Electrico valley towards the Cerro Torre glacier, the helicopter got into a strong blast of wind and lost control. The pilot did not have enough space nor time for the maneuver and helicopter got crashed on the rocks.

Bad weather at the base of Cierro Torre

After the fall, it immediately caught fire. The passenger was able to get out through the broken glass, but there was no way to save the pilot squeezed in the broken fuselage, in a few minutes the helicopter completely burned out. The rescue team arrived to the place of tragedy in the evening of the same day, the wounded passenger was rescued and the body of the pilot was delivered to El Calafat. The second rescue team provided assistance to the climber, to whom the unfortunate helicopter was trying to help. Sad story and we should always remember about people who lost their lives trying to save the lives of others. That really is worthy of memory and respect. Trying to help, a good man died. Decent and honest death. Rest in peace, Pablo Argiz.

Pilot's ring. Argentina, Patagonia, climbing Fitz Roy

As my stay in Patagonia was going to its end, I did not have time to find relatives of Pablo Argiz in Calafate - we stayed there for only for a day. But, returning to Moscow, I took up this issue. I found the page of the deceased on the Facebook - dark-skinned cheerful man smiles from the helicopter cockpit. Among his friends there was Monica of the same age as him, with the social status of a widow.

I wrote a letter to Monica with all the details of this story. 5 years after the death of her husband, his wedding ring returned to the widow from the other end of the earth. But what is the distance for the forces that can control things which seem to us a game of chance?

Pilot's ring. Argentina, Patagonia, climbing Fitz Roy

If truly feelings between people suddenly break off, what remains? If a person goes away who is so attached in life to other person that his care does not stop even after his death? Who knows - maybe something personal remains behind the threshold of death? Connections, attractions or ability to influence the events, attachments and personal relationships? If that is true - in this case, I was lucky to become a part of the chain of accidents which got woven into an interesting story that can be interpreted just as you like. And I like the way I wrote above. There are no random accidents. Accidents have their own mechanic, the principles of which we do not and cannot understand. But sometimes we feel.

Pilot's ring. Argentina, Patagonia, climbing Fitz Roy

Hi Monica!

My name is Alex, you never met me but I have something to talk with you about. I have to tell you a strange story that happened to me in Patagonia. I am professional mountain guide, and in this season climbed Fitz Roy from the north side. After the climb, we had little time left, and with my client we decided to go to the pass to take some photos of the neighboring valley and the Cerro Torre mountain group. At the pass, we found the wreckage of a helicopter. Knowing nothing about the tragedy, we examined the crash site, trying to determine the time of the tragedy and its causes. The fragments of the helicopter looked very fresh, the smell of smoke and burning was felt - it seemed that the helicopter had crashed just a few days ago. This was really very strange. The second strange thing was that I knew for sure that there was something that I had to find - it’s hard for me to explain, but I hope you understand what I want to say. When we found the wreckage of the helicopter, I knew for sure that this is not just a find, but some mission that I will have to complete. Picking up a piece of metal, I saw a wedding ring. It was there as if it had been specially put so that I saw it. You may believe or not but the strangest thing in this story is that before I found the ring, I already felt that it is there, as well as I have to pick it up and return to the owner. I do not believe in mysticism, but this story with the ring was really very strange. Moreover, for some reason I was completely sure that the ring belongs to the pilot. On the inside of the ring was an engraving - MONICA.

When we descended to El Chalten, I went to the police to find out the details of an accident and find the names of the victims. The police told me about the tragedy that happened in 2014 and gave the names of your husband and the second person who was in the helicopter. Then on Facebook I found the page of your deceased husband and the contacts of his relatives. I will be happy to return the ring to those for whom it has its importance. For some reason, I am sure that this story did not happen by accident - the finding of the ring and chain of events that led to it was too obvious and logical. I am sure that the memory of a good man who died rescuing other people, lives in the hearts of his loved ones. I am happy that I was given a chance to return to you the part of this precious memory. In early March, I am returning to return to Russia after completing my working trip in Norway and I can send the ring to you by mail, or with the help of your friends at the embassy. I would be glad to meet you in person some day!

Climbing Mount Fitz Roy in Patagonia

23.12.2020 Barcelona - Madrid

The author of the text and photos - Alex Trubachev

Your mountaineering and rockclimbing guide in Argentina, Peru and Bolivia


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