Indian authorities recover bodies of seven climbers from mountain, one still missing

MUMBAI (Reuters) – Police on Sunday retrieved the bodies of seven climbers killed in an avalanche near India’s second-highest mountain late last month and are still looking for an eighth, officials said on Sunday.

The eight climbers – four from Britain, two from the United States, and one each from Australia and India – were reported missing on May 31 after they failed to return to their base camp near Nanda Devi.

The climbers were attempting to scale an unnamed, previously unclimbed 6,477 metre (21,250 feet) peak near Nanda Devi when their route was hit by a “sizeable avalanche”, the company that organised the expedition, Moran Mountain, has said.

The paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) Force was leading the mission to bring the bodies to the town of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand state.

A 20-member ITBP team, which started out on foot last week, on Sunday reached the area where the bodies were suspected to be missing, said Vivek Kumar Pandey, a spokesman for the ITBP.

“After a five-hour operation, they have recovered the bodies of seven climbers,” Pandey said.

The recovered bodies, which include that an Indian and a female climber, are yet to be formally identified, he said.

The search operation will continue for the last body, Pithoragrah district’s top civil servant Vijay Kumar Jogdande said.

It is yet to be decided whether the team will need to airlift out the bodies that are currently at 18,000 feet, Pandey said.

Almost three weeks ago, some of the bodies were spotted by Indian air force helicopters but the difficult terrain and poor weather conditions had prevented recovery.

Officials had said the location of the bodies suggested that they may have changed course and taken a route they had not initially planned.

Indian authorities had previously identified the eight missing as expedition leader Martin Moran, John McLaren, Rupert Whewell and Richard Payne, all from Britain, Anthony Sudekum and Ronald Beimel from the United States, Ruth McCance from Australia, and liaison officer Chetan Pandey from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.

It has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons in the Himalayas for several years.

More than 20 people have been killed in the mountains, including at least 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.

Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal; Editing by Alison Williams

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