A University of Toronto quantum computing assistant professor is missing in India after an avalanche struck during a climbing trip.
Peter Wittek, 37, was resting in his tent Sunday when the avalanche hit, his brother Gergo Oberfrank told CTVNews.ca in a phone call from Budapest.
Wittek and a group of five others from Singapore, Mauritius, Vietnam and Hungary were hiking Mount Trisul in the Himalayas. One other member of the group was hit by the avalanche, the team manager told Oberfrank, but managed to dig out from the snow.
“Only my brother is missing,” he said. “My brother was in the worst place that was possible in that moment.”
A search was underway, including the use of helicopters, but poor weather conditions have hampered efforts.
Wittek, who moved to Toronto last year, has extensive experience as a mountaineer. Personal and professional friend Tomas Babej said that Wittek had trained for months for the specific trip, including taking mountaineering courses. His work in quantum physics has brought Wittek renown in Toronto where he is an assistant professor in the Rotman School of Management and where he wrote the “first seminal book written on quantum machine learning,” said Babej on the phone from Toronto.
“He is a fundamental cornerstone in this new emerging field of quantum machine learning,” he said. Wittek is an adviser for Babej’s company and “countless” other startups in the field, he added. “I don’t know how many of these things will continue if he’s not to be found.”
A spokesperson for the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management confirmed the news to CTVNews.ca. “We are in touch with his family and continue to monitor the situation actively,” wrote Ken McGuffin in an email.
The Mount Trisul area of the Himalayas that Wittek was climbing was described as “highly avalanche-prone” by Swati Bhadoriya, district magistrate of Chamoli, in an interview with local media. "This is considered one of the toughest peaks in the world. It requires a lot of expertise," he told the India bureau of the Straits Times.
Friends and family are optimistic that the search efforts can continue tomorrow in India.
“The rescue teams are really experienced and well-trained. They will try to get their best men to find my brother,” said Oberfrank.
“Everybody loves Peter. The world is going to be a worse place without him. He is the best friend I have ever known. He is my ultimate role model.”