Vi­o­lent snow­storm kills 9 climbers on Mount Gurja

One of the dead­li­est moun­taineer­ing ac­ci­dents in Nepal

Kuwait Times - - International -

KATHMANDU: Nine mem­bers of a South Korean climb­ing ex­pe­di­tion were killed af­ter a vi­o­lent snow­storm swept them off a cliff on Nepal’s Mount Gurja, one of the dead­li­est moun­taineer­ing ac­ci­dents to hit the Hi­malayan na­tion in re­cent years. The bod­ies of eight climbers - four South Kore­ans and four Nepali guides - were spot­ted near the wreck­age of their camp by a res­cue team yes­ter­day morn­ing, but strong winds were ham­per­ing the search ef­fort. A fifth South Korean climber was ini­tially re­ported miss­ing, but of­fi­cials later con­firmed he was at the camp when the deadly storm hit Fri­day and also per­ished.

“A moun­tain ex­pe­di­tion of five South Korean na­tion­als and four for­eign­ers were swept off by strong winds at the base camp dur­ing their climb to Mount Gurja. (They) fell off a cliff and died,” the South Korean for­eign min­istry said in a state­ment. He­li­copter pi­lot Sid­dartha Gu­rung was among the first peo­ple to reach the site af­ter the deadly storm and de­scribed a scene of to­tal de­struc­tion. He said all the tents had been flat­tened, re­duced to a tan­gled mess of tar­pau­lin and bro­ken polls, and the climbers’ bod­ies were scat­tered across a wide area, in­clud­ing some in a river bed some 500 me­ters away from the main camp.

“Ev­ery­thing is gone, all the tents are blown apart,” Gu­rung said. Gu­rung landed a he­li­copter just above the ex­pe­di­tion team’s camp and at­tempted to de­scend to the camp­site with a group of lo­cal vil­lagers, but icy and un­sta­ble con­di­tions meant they were un­able to re­trieve any of the bod­ies. Res­cue of­fi­cials tried to send a sec­ond he­li­copter to the site but it was un­able to fly due to strong winds, po­lice spokesman Sailesh Thapa said.

An­other at­tempt will be made to­day, he added.

Dead­li­est in­ci­dent The storm is the dead­li­est in­ci­dent to hit Nepal’s moun­taineer­ing in­dus­try since 18 peo­ple were killed at Mount Ever­est’s base camp in 2015 in an avalanche trig­gered by a pow­er­ful earth­quake. The pre­vi­ous year, 16 Sher­pas were killed on Ever­est when an avalanche swept through the Khumbu Ice­fall dur­ing the busy Spring climb­ing sea­son. Then in Oc­to­ber, a freak bl­iz­zard killed more than 40 tourists and their guides in the An­na­purna re­gion, a disas­ter that was largely blamed on poor weather fore­cast­ing and lack­lus­ter safety stan­dards in Nepal’s poorly reg­u­lated trekking in­dus­try. Moun­tain weather is known for be­ing un­pre­dictable with strong winds ca­pa­ble of throw­ing a per­son off bal­ance.

In April, an Ital­ian climber died af­ter he was blown off Mount Dhaula­giri, the world’s sev­enth high­est peak which neigh­bors Mount Gurja. But the Ital­ian was at 6,900 me­ters when his tent was swept off the moun­tain, whereas the South Korean team were be­low 4,000 me­ters when they were hit by pow­er­ful winds. “The fact that they were so low when it hap­pened is un­usual,” said ex­pe­ri­enced Ger­man climber Billi Bier­ling, who was forced to call off her own sum­mit bid on Dhaula­giri last month be­cause of heavy snow­fall and high winds.

The South Korean team had been on 7,193-me­tre (23,599-foot) Mount Gurja since early Oc­to­ber, wait­ing for a win­dow of good weather so 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, ac­cord­ing to a govern­ment-is­sued climb­ing per­mit seen by AFP.

The per­mit listed four South Korean climbers, but a fifth mem­ber had joined the team later, ac­cord­ing to Suresh Dakal of Trekking Camp Nepal, the ex­pe­di­tion or­ga­nizer. A sixth South Korean na­tional was stay­ing in a vil­lage in the val­ley be­low the moun­tain when the pow­er­ful storm struck and sur­vived, ac­cord­ing to a lo­cal po­lice re­port. Rarely-climbed Gurja was first sum­mited in 1969 by a Ja­panese team but no one has stood on its sum­mit for 22 years, ac­cord­ing to the Hi­malayan Data­base.

The South Korean team were plan­ning to scale the moun­tain via a never-climbed route, the Korean Alpine Fed­er­a­tion said. Four climbers have pre­vi­ously 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 sum­mated Ever­est, the world’s high­est moun­tain. 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. — AFP

Bod­ies of 4 South Kore­ans and four Nepalis found

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