Pithoragarh/New Delhi: The bodies of seven mountaineers killed on the way to Nanda Devi East Peak in May were brought down Wednesday, ending an operation that involved Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) climbers and IAF helicopters and consumed close to 500 hours spread over 15 days.
The bodies were flown to the Pithoragarh’s Naini Saini airport in IAF helicopters in the afternoon from a base camp at an altitude of 15,250 feet in the mountains, where a 15-member team of the ITBP climbers had brought them down on their shoulders from another base camp at 18,000 ft.
The bodies of an eight-member team of the climbers, comprising seven foreigners and one Indian, were first spotted by the IAF’s search planes June 3, days after they were reported missing May 25.
Following detection of the bodies, lying partially buried in a terrain too difficult to be retrieved from in IAF’s choppers, the ITBP launched its ‘daredevil’ mission June 13 and managed to reach them on foot after an ‘arduous’ trekking and climbing operation.
They first brought the bodies to the first base camp at 18,000 ft and then to a second one at lower altitude. From the second base camp, the bodies were first flown down to Munsiyari by helicopters and then taken to the Naini Saini airport in Pithoragarh by another IAF helicopter, District Magistrate V K Jogdande said. The bodies will be taken to Medical College Haldwani for post-mortem and identification, he added.
The body of one of the mountaineers is still missing; the recovered seven bodies are being identified, said officials. The dead include four from the UK, two from the United States of America and one each from Australia and India.
“We are still looking for the eighth mountaineer. It is expected that the body would be buried under snow and once it melts it could be retrieved,” said ITBP Director General SS Deswal.
A little penguin doll, carabiners, ropes, foreign currency, mobile phones, passports, thermal clothing, climbing axe, water-resistant pouches, watches and a helmet was among the items that the rescue team retrieved from the bodies of the climbers.
Praising the ITBP team, Deswal said the rescue team carried special equipment and deep sensors to retrieve the bodies. “This was an extraordinary operation given the vagaries of the weather, very difficult and inhospitable terrain but our team brought the bodies with all the respect due to the dead,” he said.
Twelve mountaineers had initially set out on the expedition to this 7,434-metre-high Nanda Devi East peak but were reported missing, May 25. Four trekkers were rescued in the initial phase.
The ill-fated expedition was led by well-known British mountaineer Martin Moran, who had scaled the peak twice.