At least eight climbers from a South Korean expedition have died on Nepal’s Mount Gurja, after their camp was devastated by a violent snowstorm, officials said yesterday.
The bodies of eight climbers — four South Koreans and four Nepalese guides — were spotted among the wreckage of their camp by a rescue team early in the morning, but unstable and icy conditions were hampering the search effort.
“We assume the incident happened because of a snowstorm, because trees are broken and the tents. Even the dead bodies are scattered,” police spokesman Sailesh Thapa told reporters.
A ninth climber might also be missing, Thapa said.
A helicopter reached the site and managed to land just above the expedition team’s camp, but the crew was unable to retrieve any of the bodies.
“Everything is gone, all the tents are blown apart. The conditions were too icy to continue the search,” pilot Siddartha Gurung said.
He said that a rescue team would hopefully return to the camp today, if conditions improved.
Trekking Camp Nepal managing director Wangchu Sherpa, who organized the expedition, said that the organization listed four South Korean climbers, but a fifth member had joined the team later, according to raised alarm after it had not heard from the team for nearly 24 hours.
“After [the climbers] were out of contact since yesterday we sent people from the village and a helicopter to search for them,” he said.
The group of South Korean climbers and their Nepalese guides had been camped at the foot of 7,193m Mount Gurja since early this month, waiting for a window of good weather so that they could attempt to reach the summit.
Feted South Korean climber Kim Chang-ho, who in 2013 became the fastest person to summit the world’s 14 highest mountains without using supplemental oxygen, was leading the expedition, a Nepalese government-issued climbing permit seen by reporters said.
Kim is believed to be among the dead, officials said.
The climbing permit listed four South Korean climbers, but the fifth member had joined the team later, said Suresh Dakal of Trekking Camp Nepal.
The organization was still struggling to confirm if the fifth South Korean had reached base camp when the powerful storm tore through the area on Friday, Dakal said.
Rarely climbed Gurja lies in Nepal’s Annapurna region, next to avalanche-prone Dhaulagiri — the world’s seventh-highest mountain.
Gurja was first summited in 1969 by a Japanese team, but no one has stood on its summit for 22 years, Himalayan Database data showed.
Four climbers have perished on Gurja’s flanks and a total of 30 have successfully reached its peak — a fraction of the more than 8,000 people who have summited the world’s highest mountain, Everest.
Thousands of climbers flock to Nepal each year — home to eight of the world’s 14 highest peaks — creating a lucrative mountain tourism industry that is a vital source of cash for the impoverished country.
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