Indian authorities will likely take at least 10 days to recover the bodies of a group of climbers feared killed in an avalanche high in the Himalayas, government and police officers said on Wednesday.
The eight climbers — four from Britain, two from the US, and one each from Australia and India — were reported missing last Friday after they failed to return to their base camp near Nanda Devi, India’s second highest mountain.
An Indian Air Force helicopter on Monday spotted five bodies partially buried in snow high on a mountain slope.
The status of the other three climbers is not known, but officials have said the possibility of their survival is remote, and their bodies are likely to be near the five who had been spotted.
The recovery mission began early on Wednesday but was halted after encountering technical problems and strong winds, officials said.
Another survey by air will be made this week to find a way to reach the bodies or a team will be sent on foot, but they will need time to acclimatise, officials said.
“It will take at least 10 days to remove the bodies,” said Vijay Kumar Jogdande, the district magistrate of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand.
“No bodies have so far been recovered from the three initial sorties this morning,” he said earlier.
DM Jogdande said three sorties were undertaken from Pithoragarh to retrieve the bodies but the helicopters could not hover over or land at the spot where the five bodies had been spotted.
The sharp winds did not allow the IAF helicopters with Indo-Tibetan Border Police mountaineers on board to get down, he said.
“Besides the aerial operation, the administration will also try to reach the spot by the land route tomorrow (Thursday) to retrieve the bodies,” he said.
“We are being joined by 35 state disaster response force men tonight who will be divided into two groups. One will be sent to the spot by the land route while the other will try to reach the spot by air,” the DM said.
“Because of continuous snowfall, the bodies may have been covered by snow, which would further complicate the challenge for the rescue team,” he added.
The climbers were attempting to scale an unnamed, previously unclimbed 6,477m peak near Nanda Devi when their route was hit by a “sizeable avalanche”, the company that organised the expedition, Moran Mountain, said earlier.
Jogdande said the location of the bodies suggested that they may have changed course and taken a route they had not initially planned.
The team had left Munsiyari on May 13 to scale the peak but did not return to the base camp as scheduled on May 25.
Led by British mountaineer Martin Moran, the team had John McLaren, Richard Payne and Rupert Havel from the UK, Ruth Macrain from Australia, Anthony Sudekum and Rachel Bimmel from the US and Indian liaison officer Chetan Pandey from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.
Moran had scaled the peak twice in the past.
The route to the peak begins from Munsiyari, 132km from the district headquarters.
It has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons in the Himalayas for several years.
More than 20 people have been killed in the mountains, including 11 on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak that has seen several fatalities in 2019 because of poor weather conditions, inexperienced climbers and overcrowding.
Nanda Devi, at 7,816m, and its sister mountain, Nanda Devi East, are among the world’s most challenging peaks and only a handful of people have climbed them.