By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU (Reuters) - The body of an Indian climber was found on the upper slopes of Mount Everest, raising the death toll on the world's tallest mountain since it was re-opened to expeditions this spring to four.
Sherpas searching for two Indian climbers missing since last Saturday located the body of Paresh Nath, 58, above the South Col (7,900 meters), hiking officials said on Friday.
"They are bringing the body down while the search for another Indian climber is continuing," said Wangchu Sherpa of the Trekking Team Nepal company that organized their expedition.
About 400 climbers have reached the top of Everest this month, the first time they were on the mountain after a 7.8 magnitude earthquake set off an avalanche that killed at least 18 people at Base Camp a year ago.
On Friday, a rescue helicopter brought the body of Australian climber Maria Strydom from Everest to the Nepali capital of Kathmandu. Strydom, 34, was nearing the 8,850-metre (29,035 foot) summit when she fell ill with altitude sickness and had to turn back. She died last Saturday.
"Her body has now been brought to Kathmandu from the mountain," said Phu Tenzi Sherpa of the Seven Summit Treks that organized her expedition.
Strydom's husband, Robert Gropel, who was in her team and also suffered altitude sickness, was airlifted to Kathmandu early this week.
Arnold Coster, who led the expedition, said Seven Summit Treks was as prepared as any. The Dutch mountaineer said he had personally selected climbers, and Strydom and Gropel had three experienced sherpas between them.
Gropel said the pair began their summit bid on Friday night in clear weather, departing from Camp 4, but at the South Summit at nearly 8,000 meters, Strydom slowed, stricken by altitude sickness.
Gropel also began to suffer from a lack of oxygen, hampering his thought processes.
"It took a while for me to register that I had medication, and so as soon as I realized I gave her a dexamethasone injection," Gropel told the Australian Broadcasting Corp.
With the medication and more oxygen brought up by sherpas, Strydom improved and was making her way down. She then collapsed suddenly and could not be revived.
Coster responded to criticisms the group did not sleep at Camp 3, saying that can also weaken climbers.
Sherpa climbers brought Strydom's body down the mountain to Camp 2 (6,400 meters) on Wednesday, from where a rescue helicopter plucked it to Kathmandu.
On Thursday, rescuers brought down the body of 36-year-old Dutchman Eric Ary Arnold, who died last Friday while on descent from the summit.
Subash Paul, a 43-year-old Indian mountaineer, died last Sunday.
Everest has been climbed by over 7,300 people since 1953 when Sherpa Tenzing Norgay and New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary made their pioneering ascent. The deaths this month take the toll to at least 283.
(Reporting by Gopal Sharma; Additional reporting by Jane Wardell in SYDNEY; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Ryan Woo)