Kathmandu, May 28 (Reuters): Two people died and six were injured when a helicopter crashed near Mount Everest base camp today, marring celebrations ahead of the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain.
The two dead were both Nepalis, said an army officer, who had earlier put the death toll at three.
A helicopter crewman from Kazakhstan and a German woman who was trekking on the ground at the time were among the injured, hospital officials in Kathmandu said.
The Russian-built Mi-17, owned by private airliner Simrik Airlines, was carrying eight people, including a crew of four, to the camp when it crashed. The cause of the crash was not known.
The helicopter was on its way to the camp to pick up climbers — including Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa who this week set a record of 10 hours and 46 minutes for the fastest climb from base camp — an airport official said.
The helicopter crashed about 100 metres from base camp as it was coming in to land. The main part of the machine came to rest in a shallow icy stream and scores of climbers and support staff from the base camp rushed to the scene to drag out the injured.
More than 1,000 people are at the base camp, part of more than 20 expeditions trying to climb the world's highest mountain, 8,850 metres (29,035 feet) tall, for Thursday's 50th anniversary of the first ascent.
The base camp itself is at 5,350 metres (17,550 feet) and most people trek for days through the mountains to reach it. Flying in by helicopter can be dangerous because of the high altitude, thin air and occasional high winds.
About 450 people who have reached the summit are in Nepal for the anniversary, including 83-year-old Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to reach the top along with Nepali Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Tenzing died in 1986.