9 climbers killed, 6 missing in Nepal avalanche

Posted Sept. 23, 2012, at 6:54 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 24, 2012, at 7:52 a.m.

KATMANDU, Nepal — An avalanche hit climbers on a high Himalayan peak in Nepal on Sunday, leaving at least nine dead and six others missing, officials said. Many of the climbers were French or German.

Police official Basanta Bahadur Kuwar said the bodies of a Nepalese guide and a German man were recovered and that rescue pilots had spotted seven other bodies on the slopes of Mount Manaslu in northern Nepal, the eighth highest mountain in the world.

In Madrid, Spain’s Foreign Ministry said one of those killed was Spanish, but did not release the person’s identity.

The identities of the other victims were still being confirmed.

Ten other climbers survived the avalanche but many were injured and were flown to hospitals by rescue helicopters, Kuwar said.

Rescue pilot Pasang, who uses only one name, said three injured French citizens and two Germans had been transported to hospitals in Katmandu.

He said rescuers were also attempting to bring the bodies of the dead back to the base camp.

Weather conditions were deteriorating and it was not possible to continue air searches of the mountain Sunday afternoon, Kuwar said.

The avalanche hit the climbers at a camp at 7,000 meters (22,960 feet) early in the morning as they were preparing to head toward the summit, which is 8,156 meters (26,760 feet) high.

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

It is currently the beginning of Nepal’s autumn mountaineering season. The autumn season comes right after the end of the monsoon rains, which make weather conditions unpredictable, and is not as popular among mountaineers as the spring season, when hundreds of climbers crowd the high Himalayan peaks.

Officials were investigating the cause of Sunday’s avalanche.

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

Veteran mountain guide Apa, who has climbed Mount Everest a record 21 times, traveled for months 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.

Bill Amos of Portland, Ore., an avid mountaineer and ice climber who founded the mountaineering apparel company NW Alpine, said, “It’s super sad when our fellow climbers die.” Amos said his initial thought when he heard about the deadly avalanche in Nepal was that the mountain was being overcrowded with climbers.

“That seems to be the same thing that’s going on in Everest,” he said. “All of that is overcrowding and these commercial expeditions trying to make money.”

Amos added that people who venture into the mountains need to understand the risks and dangers associated with backcountry travel and be able to spot avalanche terrain and dangerous snowpack.

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Associated Press writer Thomas Peipert in Denver contributed to this report.

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