'Black box' reveals last moments of doomed Himalayan climbers

The climbers pose for a picture before leaving for their expedition in Munsiyari town in the northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, India, on May 13, 2019.
The climbers pose for a picture before leaving for their expedition in Munsiyari town in the northern Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, India, on May 13, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Indian authorities on Monday (July 8) showed heart-wrenching images of the final moments of an international team of climbers swept away in an avalanche as they attempted to scale an unconquered Himalayan peak.

The 154-second clip from a GoPro camera shows the four Britons, two Americans, an Australian and their Indian guide roped together in bright sunshine as they take nervous, synchronised steps along a narrow ridge towards a snow-capped peak.

Then the screen goes blank.

"Suddenly we noticed a loud noise. The video went blank and stopped," said Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) spokesman Vivek Kumar Pandey.

"They were crossing a very dangerous ridge. The snow cornice must have given away because of their weight, triggering an avalanche," he told AFP.

The camera, that was carried by the final climber in the line, was found buried in snow near where seven bodies were uncovered.

An eighth climber, British team leader Martin Moran, is still missing, according to Indian authorities.

In addition to Mr Moran, the climbers were Britons John McLaren, Mr Rupert Whewell and University of York lecturer Richard Payne, US nationals Anthony Sudekum and Mr Ronald Beimel, Australian Ruth McCance and Indian guide Chetan Pandey.

"It was mesmerising for us to see the footage," said ITBP deputy inspector general A.P.S. Nambadia, who planned the operation to retrieve the bodies.

"It will help us to analyse what went wrong with their mission," he told a press briefing.

 
 

"The GoPro has proved to be like the black box of an aircraft giving an insight into the last few moments of the climbers."

'PUT OUR LIVES AT RISK'

Inspector-General Nambadia said the operation to find the bodies at an altitude of 6,100m had been "extremely challenging".

Twelve climbers had started the expedition, but four Britons were rescued after breaking away.

The missing climbers last communicated on May 26, a day before heavy snow fell in the region.

On June 3, a military helicopter spotted the bodies and climbing equipment in the snow, but several attempts to airlift the bodies away were aborted due to fierce winds and the difficult terrain.

The ITBP then sent its expert climbers on foot to bring the bodies down.

ITBP director general S.S. Deswal said the rescue team risked their own lives to retrieve the bodies "with respect and dignity".

"We put our own lives at risk and undertook the operation by foot. We slept with the dead bodies on the side for days," said ITBP officer Ratan Singh Sonal, who led the rescue team.

"At night, we would bury the bodies under snow outside our tents to slow down the decomposition process," officer Sonal told AFP.

"But we were not afraid. We felt we are all a part of humanity."

Inspector General Nambadia said the exhausted rescue team almost cracked emotionally when they found the climbers' belongings such as a toy penguin.

"They were emotionally charged when they found the baby (toy) penguin. It was symbolic of the emotions of a mountaineer and my team could relate to it."