5 climbers feared dead on Nepal's Kangchenjunga mountain

KATHMANDU (AFP) - Five climbers, including the first Hungarian to scale Mount Everest, are missing and feared dead on Nepal's treacherous Kangchenjunga mountain, tourism officials said on Thursday.

The climbers - two from Hungary, two from Nepal and one from South Korea - went missing on Monday afternoon as they attempted to climb the 8,586m peak, the officials said.

"We are not sure what caused their disappearance - it could be an avalanche or a fall," Mr Dipendra Paudel, an official at Nepal's Tourism Ministry, told Agence France-Presse.

Kangchenjunga, which lies to the east of the world's tallest peak, Mount Everest, is the world's third-highest mountain and straddles Nepal's border with India.

The climbers were last seen at a level of 7,800m, Mr Paudel said.

"There is a very slim chance of their survival," he said.

The missing men were identified by the Nepalese tourism authorities as Hungarians Zsolt Eross, 45, and Peter Kiss, 27, South Korean Park Nam Su, 47, and two Nepalese guides Bibash Gurung, 24, and Pho Dorchi Sherpa, 23.

Mr Eross was the first Hungarian to climb Everest. This expedition was to be his tenth attempt to summit an 8,000m peak.

Every May, hundreds of climbers attempt to scale peaks in the Himalayas when weather conditions are at their best.

The Kangchenjunga peak has one of the highest death rates for climbers, according to the Himalayan Database, a statistical hub kept by Kathmandu-based mountaineering expert Elizabeth Hawley.

A team of 10 Sherpas is trying to locate the exact site of the accident.

"We will send helicopters for the search-and-rescue operation only after the exact location is confirmed," Mr Paudel told Agence France-Presse.

Eight people have died on Mount Everest, the world's tallest peak, this season, and several others remain missing on mountains across Nepal's Himalayas.

More than 300 people have died on Everest since it was first conquered by Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in 1953.