Rescuers retrieve bodies of nine climbers killed on Nepal’s Mount Gurja

Storm was the deadliest incident to hit Nepal’s mountaineering community since 18 people were killed at Mount Everest’s base camp in 2015

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 14 October, 2018, 4:09pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 14 October, 2018, 10:20pm

The bodies of five South Korean climbers and their four Nepali guides were retrieved on Sunday from the mountain where they perished in a snowstorm two days earlier, officials said.

“All nine bodies have been retrieved from between the base camp on Mount Gurja and a valley below,” Wangchu Sherpa, managing director of Trekking Camp Nepal, the local organiser of the expedition, said.

Contact with the group was lost on Friday and on Saturday a rescue helicopter spotted several dead bodies scattered along a 1.5km stretch below the base camp at an altitude of 3,500 metres. That helicopter could not land in the area because of poor weather.

On Sunday, another helicopter carrying four trained rescuers was dispatched to the area and able to land on a narrow patch of land just above the base camp, Sherpa said.

The bodies were flown to Gurja village where they were identified as those of the Koreans and their Nepali guides.

The expedition was led by experienced climber Kim Chang-ho. Kim, who in 2013 became the first South Korean to scale all 14 mountains taller than 8,000 metres without supplementary oxygen, also perished in the storm that completely swept away the camp on Friday.

“Base camp looks like a bomb went off,” said Dan Richards of Global Rescue, a US-based emergency help group that helped with the retrieval effort.

Mountaineering experts are questioning how the experienced team was so badly hit while still at base camp at around 3,500 metres.

“At this point we don’t understand how this happened. You don’t usually get those sorts of extreme winds at that altitude and base camps are normally chosen because they are safe places,” said Richards.

The team had been on 7,193-metre (23,599-foot) Mount Gurja since early October, hoping to scale the rarely climbed mountain via a new route.

A sixth South Korean climber was staying at a village lower in the valley when the storm hit, after being forced to a lower altitude by health problems.

Only 30 people have ever reached the summit of Mount Gurja with the last successful ascent recorded in 1996, according to the Himalayan Database.

The freak storm is the deadliest incident to hit Nepal’s mountaineering industry since 18 people were killed at Mount Everest’s base camp in 2015 in an avalanche triggered by a powerful earthquake.

The previous year, 16 Sherpas were killed on Everest when an avalanche swept through the Khumbu Icefall during the busy spring climbing season.

Then in October that year, a blizzard killed more than 40 tourists and their guides in the Annapurna region, a disaster that was largely blamed on poor weather forecasting and lacklustre safety standards in Nepal’s poorly regulated trekking industry.

Agence France-Presse and Kyodo