A renowned South Korean climber was among nine people killed when a vicious snowstorm hit their camp on Nepal’s Mount Gurja.
Police and locals are working to bring the bodies off the mountain and to Kathmandu, South Korea’s Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a statement.
A rescue helicopter was dispatched at about 7:15 a.m. Sunday, and by 9:40 a.m. all nine bodies were found, the ministry said. Some bodies had been located Saturday.
The nine-person team had been missing since Friday, when officials lost contact with the climbers. It was not clear how much progress they’d made up the 7,193-meter (23,600-foot) Himalayan peak. No climber has summited the mountain, which is far less popular than Mt. Everest, in 22 years.
It also was not exactly clear how they died, but the storm that struck their camp was particularly violent. Capt. Siddartha Gurung, a helicopter pilot who is coordinating the retrieval mission, described a scene of total destruction.
“Base camp looks like a bomb went off,” added Dan Richards of Global Rescue, a US-based emergency assistance group assisting in the retrieval effort.
Based on the condition of the bodies and the fact the team’s camp was in tatters, rescue workers hypothesize that the team was killed by the storm’s ferocious winds.
“It seems that a serac (a piece of glacial ice) broke and barreled down the couloir (a gully on a mountainside) from the top ridge of the mountain and the gust created the turbulence washing the climbers and staff from their tented camp at the base camp,” said Suraj Paudyal, a member of the rescue team.
The bodies were rescued by placing them in a net attached to a 30-meter rope fixed to the belly of a helicopter, he said.
Rock star climber among dead
In a Facebook post, South Korean President Moon Jae-in identified the South Korean climbers as team leader Kim Chang-ho and team members Lee Jae-hoon, Yim Il-jin, Yoo Young-jik and Jung Joon-mo. The four Nepali guides who died have not been identified.
“They were on their way to find a new route to Gurja Himal but encountered an accident,” said the president, a noted outdoorsman who has himself trekked in the Himalayas.
The team had embarked on a 45-day expedition to find a new route up Mt. Gurja on September 11, said Kim’s representative agency, Eurasiatrek.
Yoo was in charge of equipment, Lee was charged with taking care of food and medical supplies and Yim was a documentary filmmaker, the agency said. Jung “was visiting Kim to encourage the team’s expedition but was swept by the strong winds,” Eurasiatrek said.
“There are dangers to all areas where humans attempt to push the boundaries. Nine climbers were taken forever by a snow storm but their bravery and tireless spirit demonstrated by their attempt to find a new route will not be buried with them,” Moon’s statement said.