An assistant professor at the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management, Dr. Peter Wittek, went missing almost a month ago after being caught in an avalanche during a hiking expedition.
Wittek, 37, specializes in quantum-enhanced machine learning and applications of high-performance learning algorithms in quantum physics. He also serves as the academic director of Rotman’s Creative Destruction Quantum Program, which supports startups in the realm of machine learning and quantum computing.
Wittek set out with five others to climb the 7,120 metre-high Himalayan peak Mount Trishul in the Chamoli district, India. The Indian National Disaster Response Force received a SOS distress beacon from a fellow mountaineer from Wittek’s base camp at 5,700 metres on September 29.
Inclement weather forced authorities to delay their on-ground search, but a three person helicopter search eventually began a few days later on October 3, accompanied by another team of high altitude state mountaineers from the National Disaster Response Force.
“It’s been close to a couple of weeks now, and the search efforts are still ongoing, and sometimes the visibility is poor,” said Sriram Krishnan in an interview with The Varsity. Krishnan is a longtime friend and fellow adventurer who has climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro with Wittek. “We’re also starting to be a little bit more pragmatic and thankful with the efforts that have been ongoing, but we also want to start celebrating what he’s done and who he was for all of us.”
Originally from Hungary, Wittek received his PhD in computer science from the National University of Singapore, and also has a master’s degree in mathematics. Having worked in China, Sweden, India, Japan, Spain, and Hungary, he is recognized as one of the leading researchers in quantum machine learning.
An avid mountaineer, Wittek has been climbing for over 10 years and boasts an impressive record, including Mount Kilimanjaro, Mont Blanc, Mount Kosciuszko, Lenin Peak, and Mount Aconcagua in Argentina — which is the highest mountain outside of Asia.
Following his disappearance, friends and family immediately banded together to coordinate their resources and media outreach. Wittek’s family has been working hard to appeal to the Canadian and Indian governments for support in their search. Krishnan noted that “[authorities] have been very helpful in the coordination of efforts” and that they have received help from various Canadian entrepreneurs, as well as the University of Toronto.
Family and friends have also started a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #findpeterwittek to raise awareness of Wittek’s disappearance, with support from hundreds of colleagues and friends from around the world who have been touched by his indelible spirit.
A GoFundMe campaign was also started to “fund additional resources to help the search and rescue efforts” and “facilitate the travel and accommodation arrangements of his immediate family in or nearby the district of Chamoli,” according to the GoFundMe’s description.
The campaign was started on October 5 and has currently raised over $16,000 with donations coming in from all over the world.
“He has certainly met a lot of people, and everyone he’s met has certainly been enriched by his personality, his outlook and generosity, so it’s a testament to who he was as an individual,” said Krishnan, “We’re optimistic and hoping for the best.”