Difficult terrain and bad weather have stopped attempts by the rescue and search teams to recover the bodies of the eight climbers — four Britons, two Americans, one Australian and their Indian guide — who are believed to have been struck by an avalanche while attempting to scale the Nanda Devi, India ’s second highest peak.
On Wednesday, the Indian Air Force aborted an aerial attempt at reaching the bodies, calling it a “very high-risk” operation at more than 16,400 feet due to turbulent winds and risk of further avalanches. Reports said the Indian Army and the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police are being consulted to help retrieve the bodies. Authorities expect it to take at least 10 days to retrieve the bodies.
Local officials engaged in coordinating the search said the death rate in the region near the Nanda Devi is about five times higher than on Mount Everest. According to TIME, India does not allow climbers on the Nanda Devi peak. “They are only allowed onto its slightly lower twin Nanda Devi East, which together stand in the centre of a ring of peaks,” it said.
Reports said the missing climbers had ventured off their pre-planned route for near the Nanda Devi summit. CBS News said the team left their base camp on May 13. On May 22, team leader Martin Moran’s mountaineering company announced on Facebook that the group intended to attempt “an unclimbed peak” which is 21,250 feet high. However, a local official said the group had only been granted permission for Nanda Devi East and added that “any diversion is illegal.” “We were completely unaware of their changed plan and that turned fatal,” he told a local media outlet.
But in a letter to district officials, deputy team leader Mark Thomas said the missing team members were trying to summit a smaller peak nearby in a bid to acclimatize before summiting Nanda Devi East, the Times of India reported.
“Their last radio transmission was eight days ago when they said they were heading toward the summit. They were supposed to return to base camp on Friday but never made it,” said Amit Chowdhary, the spokesman for the Indian Mountaineering Foundation. Chowdhary said the four-member team at the base camp did not receive any radio updates from the other team. Chowdhary said the missing climbers’ location was only known with certainity till May 26.
The bodies were spotted Monday by the IAF pilots in the Himalayas, near the shared-border with China and Nepal. They seemed to have been buried by an avalanche. A civil administrator in India’s northern state of Uttarakhand, Vijay Kumar Jogdande, said they identified the bodies using high-resolution photographs taken from a military helicopter.
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