Nepal avalanche survivors recount chilling last minutes on 'Killer Peak'

Survivors recall deafening screams and chilling silence in the final minutes of deadly avalanche

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2012, 3:42am


Huddled in their sleeping bags, the climbers first heard the avalanche roar towards them and then the sound of screaming before being swept hundreds of metres down the slopes of "Killer Mountain".

Survivors of the weekend tragedy on Nepal's Manaslu mountain, which killed at least nine people, said the scene resembled a war zone, with an entire camp destroyed by snow.

"We were sleeping in our tent after having dinner, when all of a sudden we heard the noise of other climbers screaming. Within moments, we were hit by the avalanche," said Andreas Reiter, one of the trek's survivors.

Reiter was among a group of European adventurers who were near the peak of the 8,156-metre-high Manaslu when the avalanche struck at 4am on Sunday while they were asleep.

"I witnessed one of the team members die," the 26-year-old German said from his hospital bed in Kathmandu where he was being treated for spinal injuries.

Manaslu is called "Killer Mountain" by locals due to a series of avalanches that have killed scores of mountaineers since it was first conquered by Japanese climbers in 1956.

Rescuers have all but given up on finding the three missing climbers. If the deaths are confirmed, the toll of 12 victims would make it the deadliest avalanche on the Himalayas since 2005, when a powder-snow avalanche ploughed into a French expedition's base camp on Kang Guru, killing 18 people.

"I feel sad to say that the possibility of survivors of those missing from the avalanche has almost ended," said Balkrishna Ghimire, a Nepal government spokesman.

"The avalanche occurred at the height of 7,300 metres, a very high altitude. Even if the missing mountaineers were only wounded, it will be hard for them to remain alive," he said.

Among the survivors was Glen Plake, 48, a three-time freestyle skiing world champion from California. He described the site of the avalanche as "a war zone".

"It was a major, major accident … There were 25 tents at camp three and all of them were destroyed," he said. "Twelve tents at camp two were banged up and moved around."

Plake said on a blog that he was reading when he and a friend in his tent heard a roar. "Greg looked at me and said, 'That was a big gust of wind.' Then a second later, 'No, that was an avalanche.'

"Then it hit us. I was swept 300 metres over a serac [an ice ridge on a glacier] and down the mountain, and came to a stop, still in my sleeping bag, still inside the tent, still with my headlamp on," Plake said.

Expedition leader Garrett Madison, who was based with his team in camp two, said: "Fortunately everybody in our group was okay. However, when we climbed up to camp three … we discovered the debris from a massive avalanche and found many climbers in distress."