Search teams recovered a 13th body yesterday from the snow and ice covering a dangerous climbing pass on Mouth Everest, where an avalanche a day earlier swept over a group of Sherpa guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.
Another three guides remained missing and searchers were working quickly to find them in case weather conditions deteriorated, said Maddhu Sunan Burlakoti, head of the Nepalese government’s mountaineering department.
Yet the painstaking effort involved testing the strength of newly fallen snow and using extra ropes, clamps and aluminum ladders to navigate the unstable field.
Authorities ruled out hope of finding any more survivors from an avalanche.
The victims were among a large party of Sherpas who left Everest base camp before dawn, carrying tents, food and ropes to prepare camps for foreign clients ahead of the main climbing season starting later this month.
Nepalese Ministry of Tourism official Dipendra Paudel said search teams were trying to locate bodies buried under snow.
“There’s no chance of finding the men still missing alive. They’ve been under the snow for over 24 hours,” Paudel told reporters. “Our hope is to find the bodies now, but we cannot confirm a death toll of 16 until we do.”
The avalanche occurred early on Friday at an altitude of about 5,800m in an area nicknamed the “popcorn field” due to ice boulders on the route leading into the treacherous Khumbu icefall.
Dozens of guides were on the move when a huge block of ice broke off from a hanging glacier, before splitting into smaller chunks and barreling down into the icefall, one of the most dangerous areas on the route to ascend Everest.
The ice “tumbled for several thousand feet, resulting in debris that came further out into the icefall,” according an account by climbing company International Mountain Guides, which has a team stationed on the peak.
Veteran climber Alan Arnette, who summitted Everest in 2011, said that mountaineers usually try to go through the icefall “as quickly as possible.”
The hanging glaciers “are by definition unstable, sooner or later they are going to break and fall, making the icefall very dangerous,” Arnette told reporters from his home in Colorado. “You first hear the sharp crack of ice and then you can try to shield behind another block of ice, but in this case, they really had nowhere to hide.”
An official working at the base camp of the 8,848m peak told reporters that climbers had suspended all expeditions until rescue operations ended.
“People have lost friends they’ve worked hand in hand with. Everyone is heartbroken,” police official Kumar Timilsina said.
The previous worst accident on Everest occurred in 1996 when eight people were killed during a storm while attempting to summit the mountain.
More than 300 people, most of them local guides, have died on Everest since the first summit by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.