NEW DELHI • Five bodies were spotted high on a mountain in the Indian Himalayas yesterday during an aerial search for eight climbers feared swept away in an avalanche last week.
The eight - four from Britain, two from the US, and one each from Australia and India - were reported missing last Friday after they failed to return to their camp near Nanda Devi, India's second highest mountain.
An air force helicopter spotted the five bodies on a flight over the area where they went missing, said Mr Vijay Kumar Jogdande, the top government official in the nearby Pithoragarh district. "Four bodies can be seen together and a fifth slightly away from the others," he said.
The search mission was now working on the assumption that all eight are dead, he said.
"We are trying to retrieve the bodies. We believe the other three will be nearby," he said.
The eight were trying to scale an unnamed, previously unclimbed 6,477m peak near Nanda Devi when a "sizeable avalanche" hit, said the company that organised the expedition, Moran Mountain.
Mr Jogdande said the bodies were above 5,000m and the possibility of a second avalanche would make accessing the site difficult. It had not been decided whether a team would go in by air or on foot, he said.
"We're considering both alternatives... It is still unstable terrain (and) has always been a dangerous place to go. Mount Everest is easier to climb," he said.
The bodies are at high altitude. It is still unstable terrain (and) has always been a dangerous place to go. Mount Everest is easier to climb.
MR VIJAY KUMAR JOGDANDE, the top government official in nearby Pithoragarh district, on the difficulty of recovering the eight bodies that are above 5,000m on the unnamed, previously unclimbed 6,477m peak near Nanda Devi, India's second highest mountain. The possibility of a second avalanche would make accessing the site difficult.
A team would take at least a week to reach the area, Mr Sanjay Gunjiyal, a senior police official involved in the mission, said.
Four climbers in the group had turned back and later raised the alarm about the missing eight. The four were evacuated from their base camp by helicopter and were "fine and healthy", said an official from the Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force.
This has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons in the Himalayas for several years. More than 20 people have been killed in the mountains, including 11 on Mount Everest, the world's highest peak that has been plagued by poor weather, inexperienced climbers and overcrowding.
Nanda Devi, at 7,816m, and its sister mountain, Nanda Devi East, are among the world's most challenging peaks and only a handful of people have climbed them.
The leader of the missing group, Mr Martin Moran from Britain, was the first person to summit Changuch, another peak in the area, and was known as a "godfather" of guiding in the Himalayas, according to a video diary of Mr Rob Jarvis, who accompanied him on that expedition in 2009.
"He was very well versed with the area, but the route they were taking is not usually travelled," Mr Gunjiyal said, adding that many of the other missing climbers are veterans but with little experience of Nanda Devi and its surrounding peaks.
Besides Mr Moran, the other missing climbers are John McLaren, Rupert Whewell and Richard Payne, all from Britain, Anthony Sudekum and Ronald Beimel from the United States, Ruth McCance from Australia, and liaison officer Chetan Pandey from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.