No fewer than eight climbers from a South Korean expedition have died on Nepal’s Mount Gurja after their camp was devastated by a violent snowstorm, officials said Saturday.
The bodies of eight climbers — four South Koreans and four Nepali guides — were spotted among the wreckage of their camp by a rescue team early Saturday morning, but unstable and icy conditions were hampering the search effort.
“We assume the incident happened because of a snowstorm because trees are broken and the tents. Even the dead bodies are scattered,” police spokesman Sailesh Thapa told AFP.
Thapa said a ninth climber may also be missing.
A helicopter reached the site and managed to land just above the expedition team’s camp, but were unable to retrieve any of the bodies.
“Everything is gone, all the tents are blown apart. The conditions were too icy to continue the search,” pilot Siddartha Gurung told AFP.
Gurung said a rescue team would hopefully return to the camp on Sunday, if conditions improved.
Wangchu Sherpa, managing director of Trekking Camp Nepal, who organized the expedition, said they raised the alarm after they had not heard from the team for nearly 24 hours.
“After they (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 7,193 meter (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.
Kim is believed to be among the dead, officials said.
The climbing permit listed four South Korean climbers, but a fifth member had joined the team later, according to Suresh Dakal of Trekking Camp Nepal.
Dakal said they were still struggling to confirm if the fifth South Korean had reached the base camp when the powerful storm tore through the area on Friday.
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.
Four climbers have perished on its flanks and a total of 30 have successfully reached its peak — a fraction of the more than 8,000 people who have summited the world’s highest mountain, Everest.
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.