Former F1 driver Ukyo Katayama appears to be the only survivor of a fateful assault on Mount Fuji after winter weather closed in and claimed the lives of his climbing partners.

The Japanese, the third of his countrymen to make it to the summit of international motorsport when he debuted with the Larrousse team in 1992, became a dedicated climber when his career on four wheels began to wane, and has made no secret of his desire to conquer the highest peaks on each of the seven continents. The attempt on Mount Fuji, however, was reportedly a preparatory expedition before Katayama and his colleagues began a trek to the South Pole.

The mountain - which towers 12.389 feet above the former F1 circuit of the same name - is Japan's highest peak, but is only officially open to climbers during the summer. Winter temperatures can fall well below freezing, and during Katayama's climb are claimed to have plunged to -27 degrees Celsius overnight.

The 46-year old former Larrousse, Tyrrell and Minardi driver was first reported missing, along with two fellow climbers, on Thursday night, and was feared dead until he finally made contact with Shizuoka prefectural police on Friday morning. He was later found alive, but the Kyodo news agency fears that one companion has already died and the other was close to death after their tent blew away. Police will restart their search for Katayama's colleagues on Saturday.

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