KATHMANDU (AFP) — Rescuers scaled down a search Monday for two French climbers and a Canadian missing in a Nepal avalanche which killed at least nine people attempting to scale one of the world’s highest peaks.
Police said they had halted a helicopter rescue mission as hopes faded for the trio, part of a group hit by a wall of snow in their tents near the peak of the 8,156-metre (26,759-foot) Manaslu in the early hours of Sunday.
“We have now stopped helicopter rescue operations. Two French and a Canadian mountaineer are still missing. Sherpa guides are in the mountains searching for them,” district police chief Basanta Bahadur Kunwar told AFP.
Nepal’s tourism board had earlier put the missing figure at seven, but police said four of those were among 13 already rescued on Sunday.
Among those reported missing was a doctor from the French-speaking Canadian province of Quebec, cardiologist Dominique Ouimet, the man’s sister said.
“The tents seem to have disappeared because the avalanche came by,” Isabelle Ouimet told Radio Canada, adding that her brother was at camp three when the avalanche struck.
Kunwar said five mountaineers had been airlifted from among the survivors at Manaslu base camp Sunday and were being treated in Kathmandu.
“The other eight mountaineers who are at the base camp have not sustained any injuries. They have said they will either walk down or will make an attempt to reach the peak again and have told officials that they should not be rescued.”
Eight of the dead have been identified, Nepal tourism board spokesman Sarad Pradhan told AFP, adding that four were French, one a Nepali mountain guide, one a Spaniard, one German and one Italian.
“We were sleeping in our tent after having dinner, when all of a sudden we heard the noise of other climbers screaming. Within moments, we were hit by the avalanche,” Andreas Reiter, 26, from Germany, was quoted as telling the Himalayan Times from his hospital bed in the capital.
“I witnessed one of the team members die.”
SNGM vice-president Christian Trommsdorff said the dead French climbers were two mountain guides from the Chamonix area in the Alps and two of their clients.
The avalanche happened at around 7,400 metres and carried away part of camp number three at 6,800 metres, Trommsdorff told AFP.
Manaslu, the eighth-highest mountain in the world, is considered one of the most dangerous, with scores of deaths in recent years and just a few hundred successful ascents.
Laxmi Dhakal, head of the home ministry’s disaster response division, confirmed the avalanche had hit camp three and said it had created “a flood of snow”.
Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, including the world’s highest, Mount Everest, and attracts thousands of mountaineers every year.
Most come in the spring, when Himalayan conditions are at their best, but there is also a short climbing season in late September and October after the monsoon rains end.
Manaslu is nicknamed “Killer Mountain” by locals because a series of snowslides have claimed the lives of scores of mountaineers since it was first conquered in 1956. The latest deaths mean at least 62 people have died, according to an AFP tally.
It saw its worst disaster when a South Korean expedition was buried by snow while attempting to climb the northeast face in 1972. The 15 dead included 10 Sherpas and the Korean expedition leader.
Those who attempt the summit are experienced climbers who will tackle other Himalayan peaks as well, said Dawa Steven Sherpa, two-time summiteer of Everest from Kathmandu.
“People who normally climb up Manaslu have bigger peaks in mind, or they are people who are attempting to climb all the 8,000m peaks,” he told AFP.
“Very few people climb Manaslu for the sake of just climbing Manaslu.”
Nepal’s worst-ever climbing disaster happened in 1995 when a huge avalanche struck the camp of a Japanese trekking group in the Mount Everest region, killing 42 people including 13 Japanese.