Mummified bodies found in embrace on Mexico's highest peak

PUEBLA, Mexico (AFP) - Two mummified bodies found on Mexico's highest peak appear to be embracing each other and are believed to be climbers who vanished after an avalanche in 1959, officials said.

A mission to recover the bodies from the Pico de Orizaba was suspended until next Monday in order to build a special container to bring the remains intact, one of the rescue workers said on Friday.

The expedition in the central state of Puebla was launched on Thursday after climbers found a frozen head sticking out of the glacier near the summit earlier in the week.

As two members of the expedition began to dig around the body, they discovered a second body, said Francisco Rodriguez, one of the mountaineers.

"Their position surprised us because they are apparently in an embrace. The arm of one of them is on the body of the other," Rodriguez told Radio Formula, adding that reddish pieces of clothing were on the bodies.

Foggy conditions only allowed two of the 12 rescuers to reach the site of the bodies, 300 metres from the peak of the 5,610-metre mountain.

The discovery raised hopes that the two bodies could finally end a 55-year-old mystery.

Veteran climber Luis Espinoza Ruiz, who is in his 70s, told AFP that he believes the bodies belong to two of three friends who were buried under an avalanche during a climb on Nov 2, 1959.

On the day of their climb, they set out at 3.00 am. They split into two teams to pass a crevice on the north side of the volcano, but at around mid-day, "we heard a big noise and two weeks' worth of snow collapsed," Espinoza recalled.

He said he had searched for his comrades for 20 years.

"I have hope. I'm almost certain that it's them," Espinoza said, noting that one of his friends had a red sweater.

Rescuers say it is possible that they could find a third body, as they only dug half a metre to the right and left of the first body.

The recovery effort will likely resume on Monday, depending on weather conditions, said Juan Navarro, mayor of the town of Chalchicomula de Sesma at the foot of the mountain, who has been receiving reports about the mission.

Navarro said he had received phone calls from Spain and Germany of people suspecting it could be relatives of theirs. But Rodriguez said the bodies appear Mexican.

The Puebla state attorney general's office will seek to identify the bodies through DNA tests.

The mountain, also known as the Citlaltepetl volcano, is popular among climbers, though some have got lost or suffered fatal accidents in the past.