Everest avalanche kills 12 Nepalese guides

The Sherpa guides had gone early in the morning to fix ropes for other climbers when the avalanche hit them at about 6:30am

Nepalese mountaineer, Dawa Tashi Sherpa, survivor of an avalanche on Mount Everest, is recovering in the Intensive Care Unit at Grandi International Hospital in Kathmandu on April 18, 2014. Prakash Mathema / AFP
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KATHMANDU // An avalanche swept down a climbing route on Mount Everest early Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese guides in the deadliest disaster on the world’s highest peak.

The Sherpa guides had gone early in the morning to fix ropes for other climbers when the avalanche hit them at about 6:30am, the Nepal tourism ministry said.

Rescuers who rushed to the scene managed to pull seven Sherpa guides from the snows, said Suber Shrestha, a Nepali official monitoring the operation. Three critically injured guides were airlifted by helicopter to the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, he said.

Mr Shrestha said that according to preliminary accounts from some of the injured guides, a team of 16 to 20 guides had set out early in the morning to set up a camp at an altitude of more than 6,000 metres for climbers preparing to ascend the peak.

Most of them were climbing a long ladder on the slope of the mountain when a large chunk of ice swept them away.

The bodies of 12 dead were recovered. Four Sherpas were still missing when search efforts were suspended in the afternoon amid deteriorating weather, according to Mohan Krishna Sapkota of Nepal’s tourism ministry.

“We will look for the missing tomorrow,” Mr Sapkota said.

The avalanche hit an area nicknamed the “popcorn field” for its bulging chucks of ice and is just below Camp 2, Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said. Camp 2 sits at an elevation of 6,400 metres on the 8,850-metre mountain.

Survivor Dawa Tashi was airlifted to Kathmandu and was lying in the intensive care unit at Grande Hospital in Kathmandu. Doctors said he suffered several broken ribs and would be in the hospital for a few days.

Mr Tashi told his visiting relatives that the Sherpa guides woke up early and were on their way to fix ropes to the higher camps but were delayed because of the unsteady path. Suddenly the avalanche fell on the group and buried many of them, according to Mr Tashi’s sister-in-law Dawa Yanju.

Hundreds of climbers, guides and support crews are at Everest’s base camp preparing to climb to the summit when weather conditions will be at their most favourable early next month. They have been setting up camps at higher altitudes, and guides have been fixing routes and ropes on the slopes above.

The Sherpa people are one of the main ethnic groups in Nepal’s alpine region, and many make their living as climbing guides on Everest and other Himalayan peaks.

More than 4,000 climbers have summited Everest since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Hundreds have died attempting to reach the peak.

The worst recorded disaster on Everest had been a snowstorm on May 11, 1996, that caused the deaths of eight climbers. Six Nepalese guides were killed in an avalanche in 1970.

Earlier this year, Nepal announced several steps to better manage the heavy flow of climbers and speed up rescue operations. The steps included the dispatch of officials and security personnel to the base camp at 5,300 meters, where they will stay throughout the spring climbing season that ends in May.

Each year, 300 foreign mountaineers and more than 600 local Sherpas climb Everest during the expedition season, according to Nepal’s tourism ministry.

* Associated Press and Dow Jones