Tuesday 16 July 2019

Nine bodies recovered from remote Himalayan mountain

Five South Korean climbers and four Nepali sherpas died on Gurja Himal.

Family members of Nepalese guides cry as bodies of those killed arrive at the Teaching hospital in Kathmandu (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)
Family members of Nepalese guides cry as bodies of those killed arrive at the Teaching hospital in Kathmandu (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)

By Binaj Gurubacharya and Emily Schmall

It took rescuers two days to recover the battered bodies of nine climbers, including one of the world’s best, who died in Nepal’s worst mountaineering disaster in recent years, authorities have said.

Local police chief Bir Bahadur Budamagar said a group of villagers reached the climbers’ camp site on Saturday on Gurja Himal, a less-popular but pristine mountain in the shadow of Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh-highest peak and a day’s walk from the nearest village.

The climbers included Kim Chang-ho, the first South Korean to scale all 14 Himalayan peaks over 8,000 metres without using supplemental oxygen, who was leading the expedition with four other South Koreans and four Nepalese guides.

Technically difficult and remote, the mountain has not been scaled in eight years.

Officials unload the bodies of those killed on a Himalayan mountain (Niranjan Shrestha/AP)

The damage to the climbers’ bodies, including broken limbs and smashed skulls, indicated a violent wind carrying chunks of ice swept them away from their camp site, Mr Budamagar said.

The bodies were found spread in a one-mile radius.

“The battered pieces and tents and other equipment were scattered even further away,” Mr Budamagar said.

Only 30 climbers have ever reached the peak of the 7,193-metre (23,590-foot) Gurja Himal, government tourism director Surendra Thapa said, and Mr Kim was not among them.

Nepal offers hundreds of mountains to climb, and mountaineers generally choose those where the routes and conditions are well known.

Many climbers are discouraged from the mountain at least in part because of a legal requirement to have at least three trained Nepalese guides along to receive a permit, Mr Thapa said.

More adventurous climbers would be drawn to a mountain like Gurja, said Jiban Ghimire, who organises expeditions for the Kathmandu-based company Shangrila Nepal Trek.

File picture of the HImalayas including Mount Everest (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“These people like to go to mountains which are not crowded and there are no commercially organised expeditions of big groups. On the bad side, they are also far from getting help when in trouble,” Mr Ghimire said.

The bodies of Mr Kim and four other South Koreans who were killed will arrive in South Korea on Wednesday, according to an official from South Korea’s Corean Alpine Club.

Rescuers retrieved the climbers’ bodies on Sunday after the weather cleared.

The body of one of the guides was taken to his village, while the eight others were flown to Kathmandu.

“It was the worst mountaineering disaster in Nepal in recent years and an unimaginable one,” said Rameshwor Niraula of Nepal’s Mountaineering Department, which issues climbing permits and monitors expeditions.

Spring and autumn are the optimal climbing seasons in Nepal between the harsh winter and summer monsoon.

A helicopter lands close to a storm site after searching for missing mountaineers (Simrik Air/AP)

One Korean member of the climbing team had become ill and was in a village far below the base camp during the storm.

A Corean Alpine Club official identified the other South Korean victims as Yu Yeong-jik, Im Il-jin, Jeong Jun-mo and Lee Jae-hoon.

It was the deadliest climbing disaster in Nepal since 2015, when 19 people were killed at Mount Everest base camp by an avalanche triggered by an earthquake that devastated the country.

The previous year, an avalanche above Everest’s base camp killed 16 Nepalese Sherpa guides.

The Himalayan range includes all 14 of the world’s peaks that rise above 8,000 metres, and only a few dozen climbers have made verified, successful ascents of them all.

Mr Kim achieved his feat in 2013.

PA Media

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