Snow­storm kills nine climbers on Nepalese peak

Bangkok Post - - ASIA -

>> KATH­MANDU: All nine mem­bers of a South Korean climb­ing ex­pe­di­tion were con­firmed dead yes­ter­day af­ter a vi­o­lent snow­storm dev­as­tated their camp on Nepal’s Mount Gurja, one of the dead­li­est moun­taineer­ing ac­ci­dents to hit the Hi­malayan na­tion in re­cent years.

The bod­ies of nine climbers — five South Kore­ans and four Nepali guides — was seen among the wreckage of their camp by a res­cue team early yes­ter­day but in­clement weather was ham­per­ing the search.

A fifth South Korean climber was ini­tially re­ported miss­ing, but of­fi­cials have now con­firmed that he was at the camp when the deadly storm hit and is be­lieved to have 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 de­struc­tion with the tents flat­tened and the climber’s bod­ies scat­tered across the area.

“Every­thing is gone, all the tents are blown apart,” Mr Gu­rung said.

Mr Gu­rung landed a he­li­copter just above the ex­pe­di­tion team’s camp, but icy and un­sta­ble con­di­tions meant they were un­able to re­trieve any of the bod­ies.

Nepal’s tourism depart­ment said a se­cond he­li­copter was to be sent to the site yes­ter­day af­ter­noon.

“A he­li­copter has been sent for se­cond res­cue at­tempt but we are not sure whether it can get close to the in­ci­dent site,” said spokes­woman Mira Acharya.

The storm is the dead­li­est in­ci­dent to hit Nepal’s moun­taineer­ing in­dus­try since 18 peo­ple were killed at the Mount Ever­est 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.

Wangchu Sherpa, manag­ing di­rec­tor of Trekking Camp Nepal, who or­gan­ised the ex­pe­di­tion, said they raised the alarm af­ter they had not heard from the South Korean 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 Nepali guides had been camped at the foot of the 7,193-me­tre 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.

The per­mit listed four South Korean climbers, but a fifth mem­ber had joined the team later, ac­cord­ing to Suresh Dakal of Trekking Camp Nepal.

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, ac­cord­ing to the Hi­malayan Database.

The South Korean team were plan­ning to scale the moun­tain via a never-climbed route, ac­cord­ing to the Korean Alpine Fed­er­a­tion.

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 Ever­est, the world’s high­est moun­tain.

DAN­GER­OUSLY BEAU­TI­FUL: Trekkers take in the sweep­ing sun­rise at the foothills of the Dhaula­giri Range.

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