Avalanche on Nepal peak kills at least 9 climbers

AP News
Posted: Sep 24, 2012 3:33 AM
Avalanche on Nepal peak kills at least 9 climbers

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Rescue helicopters flew over the high slopes of a northern Nepal peak again Monday to search for climbers lost in an avalanche that killed at least nine mountaineers and injured others. Many of the climbers were French, German and Italian.

The avalanche hit in the 4 a.m. darkness Sunday while more than two dozen climbers were still sleeping in their tents, said Dolraj Dhakal, government administrator in the area. He said no one saw it coming and they are unable describe the size of the avalanche that swept their camp high on the side of the world's eighth-highest peak, Mount Manaslu.

Rescuers brought down eight bodies by midday Monday and were trying to retrieve the ninth from the 7,000 meters (22,960 feet) area where the avalanche struck, said Basanta Bahadur Kuwar, police chief in the area where the mountain is located. Four helicopters were searching by air, and climbers and guides were searching the slopes on foot.

At least six more climbers are believed to be still missing. Kuwar said the identity of the climbers killed and missing were still not clear.

Spain's Foreign Ministry said from Madrid that one climber killed was Spanish. The identities of the others were still being confirmed.

Ten climbers survived, but many were injured and were flown to hospitals by rescue helicopters. Three injured French citizens and two Germans were transported to hospitals in Katmandu on Sunday, and two more Italians were flown there Monday.

Italian, German and French teams were on the mountain, with a total of 231 climbers and guides, but not all were at the higher camps hit by the avalanche.

Sunday's avalanche came at the start of Nepal's autumn climbing season, when the end of the monsoon rains makes weather in the high Himalayas unpredictable. Spring is a more popular season, when hundreds of climbers crowd the high Himalayan peaks.

Mount Manaslu is 8,156 meters (26,760 feet) high and has attracted more climbers recently because it is considered one of the easier peaks to climb among the world's tallest mountains.

Nepal has eight of the 14 highest peaks in the world. Climbers have complained in recent years that conditions on the mountains have deteriorated and risks of accidents have increased.

Veteran guide Apa, who has climbed Mount Everest a record 21 times, traveled across Nepal earlier this year campaigning about the effects of global warming on the mountain peaks.

He told The Associated Press the mountains now have considerably less ice and snow, making it harder for climbers to use ice axes and crampons on their boots to get a grip on the slopes.

Loose snow also increases the risk of avalanches. The cause of Sunday's avalanche was not immediately determined.

Avalanches are not very frequent on Mount Manaslu, but this one is not the first fatal avalanche there. In 1972, an avalanche struck a team of climbers and killed six Korean and 10 Nepalese guides on Manaslu.

Ang Tshering of the Asian Trekking agency in Katmandu, who has equipped hundreds of expeditions, said the low level of snow and increased number of climbers on Manaslu has also made climbing conditions difficult.

"It used to be low risk mountain in the past but now that has all changed," Tshering said adding conditions have turned unpredictable on the mountain.