Stranded Everest climbers airlifted down to base camp

KATHMANDU - Mountain rescue teams, helped by clear weather, used helicopters to airlift climbers down to base camp after they were stranded for two days at high altitude on Mount Everest, following an earthquake-triggered avalanche that killed at least 17 people.

The helicopters evacuated almost all of the 180 climbers who were stuck at Camp 1 and Camp 2 on Everest after the route back to base camp was blocked in the avalanche, Nepal Mountaineering Association president Ang Tshering Sherpa said yesterday.

"They are all in good health," Mr Sherpa said, adding that 700 climbers are still at base camp and the route to Camp 1 is being repaired. Saturday's 7.8-magnitude earthquake has rendered the treacherous Khumbu Icefall leading up to the two camps from base camp impassable.

Romanian climber Alex Gavan said on Twitter that three helicopters had reached camps 1 and 2, which are at altitudes of more than 6,000m. Each helicopter is capable of carrying only two climbers because of the thin air, Mr Gavan said from base camp.

Mr Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, a climber from Denmark, posted a video on Facebook showing a helicopter landing to evacuate two climbers and then taking off again 30 seconds later. The weather conditions were clear.

Survivors on Everest described a cloud of rock and ice that smashed into base camp last Saturday. More than 60 people were injured, leading climbers to send frantic messages calling for helicopter assistance to evacuate the wounded.

Japan's Foreign Ministry yesterday said that a Japanese man was among those killed on Everest, the fourth foreign national besides three Americans claimed by the avalanche.

This is the deadliest avalanche on Everest, surpassing last year's death toll of 16 when, on April 18, a massive ice formation broke apart, sending an avalanche of snow and ice barrelling through the Khumbu Icefall.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG