Pithorgarh: Authorities are likely to take at least 10 days to recover the bodies of a group of climbers feared killed in an avalanche in the Himalayas, government and police officials said Wednesday.
The eight climbers – four from Britain, two from the US, and one each from Australia and India – were reported missing last Friday after they failed to return to their base camp near Nanda Devi, India’s second highest mountain.
An Indian Air Force helicopters Wednesday undertook three sorties to retrieve bodies of five mountaineers lying near the Nanda Devi East Peak in Uttarakhand but high speed sharp winds hampered their efforts.
Considering the tough terrain, the operation of retrieving the bodies might extend beyond a week, Pithoragarh District Magistrate VK Jogdande said. He said three sorties were undertaken from Pithoragarh to retrieve the bodies but the helicopters could not hover over and get down at the spot where five bodies were found.
High speed sharp winds at the peak did not let the IAF helicopters with ITBP mountaineers on board get down, he said.
“Besides the aerial operation, the administration will also try to reach the spot by the land route tomorrow to retrieve the bodies,” he said. “We are being joined by 35 State Disaster Response Force men tonight who will be divided into two groups. One will be sent to the spot by land route while the other will try to reach the spot by air,” the DM said. “Due to continuous snowfall in the region the bodies might be covered by snow which would further complicate the challenge for the rescue team,” he said.
IAF helicopters Monday spotted the bodies of five of the eight mountaineers who went missing recently on way to the Nanda Devi East peak. The bodies had been sighted near an unscaled peak adjoining the Nanda Devi East peak during a search by IAF helicopters. The bodies were of mountaineers belonging to the eight-member team that went missing en route to the Nanda Devi East peak.
Apparently the mountaineers perished in an avalanche while ascending an unscaled peak near the Nanda Devi East peak after they failed to scale the latter, the DM had said. The bodies were sighted after an air search was conducted over the peak on the basis of clues provided by four climbers from UK rescued during a sortie undertaken Sunday. The missing mountaineers included seven from the UK, US and Australia besides one liaison officer from Delhi’s Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
They had left Munsiyari May 13 to scale the peak but did not return to the base camp on the appointed date of May 25. Led by well known British mountaineer Martin Moran, the team comprised John McLaren, Richard Payne, Rupert Havel (all from UK), Ruth Macrain (Australia), Anthony Sudekum (US), Rachel Bimmel (US) and liaison officer from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation Chetan Pandey. Moran, who led the team, had already scaled the peak twice in the past, he said.
The route to the peak begins from Munsiyari about 132 km from the district headquarters.
The status of the other three climbers is not known, but officials have said the possibility of their survival is remote, and their bodies are likely to be near the five who had been spotted.
The recovery mission began early Wednesday but was halted after encountering technical problems, officials said. Another survey by air will be made this week to find a way to reach the bodies or a team will be sent on foot, but they will need time to acclimatise, officials said.
“It will take at least 10 days to remove the bodies,” added Jogdande.
More than 20 people have been killed in the mountains, including 11 on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak that has seen several fatalities in 2019 due to poor weather conditions, inexperienced climbers and overcrowding.
Nanda Devi, at 7,816 metres (25,643 feet), and its sister mountain, Nanda Devi East, are among the world’s most challenging peaks and only a handful of people have climbed them.