NEW DELHI — In Nepal, at least 12 mountaineering guides have been killed in an avalanche that swept down Mount Everest. It is the deadliest accident on the world’s highest peak in recent times.
It was early Friday when the deadly avalanche hit guides who had set out early to ferry supplies and make preparations such as fixing ropes for foreign climbers.
Dipendra Paudel at Nepal’s Tourism Ministry mountaineering department says all the victims were local mountain guides.
“It was 6.30 a.m. It was an avalanche and buried all the people," said Paudel. "The climbers are taking some kitchen items for the above camp. There was no foreign climbers. The avalanche happened between base camp and first camp.”
More than 50 people, including the army and police, joined the rescue effort on the high mountain slope. At least three guides were pulled from under the snow and were taken by helicopter to Kathmandu.
Mountaineers say the avalanche struck at a relatively low elevation on the world's tallest mountain in an area known as a “popcorn field”.
Friday’s accident is the worst in recent times - in 1996 eight climbers were lost to a deadly snow storm.
Friday's disaster happened at the start of the climbing season on Everest and took place on what is called the South Col route, which was used by the first men to conquer the 8,850 meter peak. The route continues to be popular with Western climbers.
Paudel says the base camp at Everest is crowded at this time of the year because a two week window starting in mid-May is one of the best times to scale the peak. Mountaineers, local guides and support crew set up camp by this time to acclimatize.
“More than 1000 climbers are there at this time,” Paudel said.
Over the years, the world’s highest peak has become hugely popular, and some say even too crowded. Over the last two decades, the number of annual climbers, mostly foreigners, has gone from 100 to 500.
Last year there were reports that climbers had to wait their turn to descend or ascend the peak because nearly 150 reached the last stretch within hours of each other.
More than 4,000 have scaled the summit since 1953, when it was first conquered. Hundreds, including climbers and guides have died during the attempt.