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SA climbers safe after Everest avalanche as search called off

Sapa-AFP

Reports claim South African climbers are safe after the deadliest ever avalanche on Mount Everest that left at least 13 Nepalese mountain guides dead.

Nepal called off the search on Sunday for three local guides still missing after the deadliest accident on Mount Everest that killed 13 of their colleagues, a tourism ministry official said. (AP)

The City Press reported on Sunday that South African climbers were safe following an avalanche on Mount Everest – the world's highest mountain – which left at least 13 Nepalese mountain guides dead.

Saray Khumalo, seeking to be the first black woman to summit Everest, told the newspaper she and Sibusiso Vilane were at base camp on Friday morning when the avalanche occurred around 500 metres further up the mountain.

Vilane, the first black African to climb Everest, sent a message soon afterwards to say he and his fellow South African climbers were safe.

News agency Agence France-Presse reported on Sunday that the search for Nepalese guides still missing after the deadliest accident was suspended Sunday due to bad weather.

Thirteen guides were killed and nine were plucked to safety after an ice avalanche smashed into their expedition on Friday, but thick cloud has halted rescuers' efforts to find the remaining three.

The newspaper reported that Vilane and Khumalo were part of a group of 23 climbers.

Leading South African mountaineer Ronnie Muhl, also on Everest, said: "Rescue work is being done right around us here in the base camp.

"Rescue helicopters have already brought at least 12 bodies down from the mountain to a spot about 50m from here."

He said it was without a doubt the "most serious tragedy in Everest's climbing history, with the helicopter pilots doing an "incredible job" in life-threatening conditions.

Search called off
Nepal called off the search on Sunday for three local guides still missing after the deadliest accident on Mount Everest that killed 13 of their colleagues, a tourism ministry official said.

"We have decided to stop the search for the missing. We have been unable to identify the location of bodies and at this stage it is difficult to find them in the snow," Dipendra Paudel said.

Authorities on Saturday ruled out hope of finding any more survivors and officials have decided to end the search for the remaining three guides.

The sherpa guides were among a large party that left Everest base camp, carrying tents, food and ropes to prepare routes for international clients before the main climbing season starts later this month.

The avalanche hit the sherpas at an altitude of about 5 800 metres in an area nicknamed the "popcorn field" due to ice boulders on the route, which leads into the treacherous Khumbu Icefall.

Dozens of guides were on the move when a huge block of ice broke off from a hanging glacier, before splitting into smaller chunks and barreling down into the icefall, one of the most dangerous areas en route to the summit.

The disaster underscored the huge risks borne by local guides who ascend the icy slopes, often in pitch-dark and usually weighed down by tents, ropes and food for their clients.

The nature of their work means that sherpas will usually make many more trips up the mountain and expose themselves to far greater risk than foreign climbers who pay tens of thousands of dollars to summit the peak. – Sapa-AFP

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