June 3, 2019
By Alasdair Pal
NEW DELHI (Reuters) – An aerial search for eight climbers feared swept away in an avalanche on a remote mountain in the Indian Himalayas resumed on Monday, officials said, though bad weather was hampering the effort.
The climbers – four from Britain, two from the United States, and one each from Australia and India – were reported missing by colleagues on Friday after they failed to return to their base camp near Nanda Devi, India’s second highest mountain.
A rescue operation began over the weekend but made little progress.
On Monday, an air force helicopter flew over the area where they went missing, without seeing anyone. A second flight was scheduled for later in the day.
“The weather conditions are not favorable,” Sanjay Gunjiyal, a senior police official in the state, told Reuters.
“The area is very avalanche prone.”
A team of mountaineers is ready to mount a rescue if the climbers are found, but it would take at least a week to reach the area where they are believed to have gone missing, he said.
The party was attempting to climb an unnamed, previously unclimbed 6,477 meter (21,250 feet) peak near Nanda Devi when their route was hit by a “sizeable avalanche”, the company that organized the expedition, Moran Mountain, said on Monday.
“We are working on the assumption, and with the sense of urgency, that they are still alive,” said Tripti Bhatt, an official of the Uttarakhand State Disaster Response Force, though other officials said on Sunday the group’s chances of survival were remote.
Four climbers in the group had turned back and later raised the alarm about their missing colleagues. They were evacuated from their base camp by helicopter and were “fine and healthy”, she said.
Along with its air force, India has deployed elite paramilitary units to help with the search.
It 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 7,816 m (25,643 feet), 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, Martin Moran, 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 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 traveled,” Gunjiyal said.
Many of the other missing climbers are veterans but with little experience of Nanda Devi and its surrounding peaks, he said.
Indian authorities have identified the eight missing as Moran, John McLaren, Rupert Whewell and Richard Payne, all from Britain, Anthony Sudekum and Ronald Beimel from the United States, Ruth McCance from Australia, and liason officer Chetan Pandey from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
(Reporting by Alasdair Pal; Editing by Martin Howell, Robert Birsel)