Nine climbers on a South Korean expedition have been killed after a snowstorm on Mount Gurja in Nepal.
This is one of the deadliest mountaineering accidents in the Himalayas in recent years.
After the storm, rescue workers found the bodies of five South Koreans and four Nepalese guides on Saturday morning.
“A mountain expedition of five South Korean nationals and four foreigners were swept off by strong winds at the base camp during their climb to Mount Gurja. (They) fell off a cliff and died,” the South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement.
Helicopter pilot Siddartha Gurung said it was a scene of total destruction with all the tents missing or broken with the climbers’ bodies scattered over a large area.
“Everything is gone, all the tents are blown apart,” Gurung told AFP about the camp which was only at 4,000 metres.
“The fact that they were so low when it happened is unusual,” said German climber Billi Bierling, who was forced to call off her own summit bid on Dhaulagiri last month because of high winds.
This is the worst accident in the world of mountaineering since 2015, when 18 people were killed at Mount Everest’s basecamp after an earthquake. A year before that, 16 Sherpas were killed in an avalanche on the Khumbu Icefall.
Dan Richards of Global Rescue will be helping with the recovery efforts and said it was unclear how a freak storm at a relatively low altitude turned so deadly.
“It is hard to understand how this occurred given the depth of (mountaineering) experience among the group,” he said.
In the group was South Korean climber Kim Chang-ho, who in 2013 became the fastest person to summit the world’s 14 highest peaks without using supplemental oxygen.
The team was attempting a new route on the 7,193-metre Mount Gurja and had been waiting out poor weather.
Gurja was first climbed in 1969 by a Japanese team but no one has stood on its summit for 22 years, according to the Himalayan Database.
Four climbers died on Gurja over the past few decades and a total of 30 have reached the top.