World News Climbers missing in Himalayas unlikely to be found, officials say

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Eight climbers missing in the Himalayas have not been found in initial helicopter searches, and hopes are fading that they will be discovered.

Two Indian air force helicopters and a rescue team have been searching the region around the Nanda Devi mountain, which the group were attempting to summit.

It will take days to trek to the last known location of the group – four people from Britain, two from the US, an Australian and an Indian – who went missing after a heavy avalanche on India’s second highest peak.

“The first aerial recce has concluded and one tent was spotted, but there were no signs of human movement,” Vijay Kumar Jogdanda, the top civil servant in the Pithoragarh district of Uttarakhand state, told the Guardian by phone.

He confirmed there had been a number of avalanches in the Nanda Devi peak region and said prints were spotted leading into the site of an avalanche.

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Another helicopter reconnaissance mission will begin at 5am on Monday local time. Jogdanda said visibility was poor and there had been storms. Asked what the chances were of finding the eight people, he said: “It is difficult.”

A team of 24 rescuers – including police and disaster response personnel – will continue the search . They will need at least three days to walk to the avalanche site, and drones will also be used.

An Indian air force spokesman, Amid Chowdhury, told AAP: “Today’s search has not hinted any results. We have not been able to spot any people or any gear or any clothing. It’s not looking too good.”

He said rescuers would remain hopeful until there was absolutely clear evidence. “Since we have been unable to see anything beyond the footsteps ending where the avalanche came down, it’s not possible to make a definite, very certain conclusion that they were indeed in the avalanche or they were not,” he said.

The eight were part of a larger contingent of 12 climbers who began their ascent on 13 May from the village of Munsiyari, in northern India, near the western Nepal border.

According to an update on 22 May, the group had reached their second base camp at 4,870 metres and were due to make a summit attempt on an unclimbed peak at 6,477 metres (15,980ft).

However, on 25 May the expedition’s deputy leader, Mark Thomas, returned to camp with three others. When their fellow climbers did not return as planned, they informed officials late on Friday.

The four were picked up by helicopter on Saturday and video footage showed them arriving in Pithoragarh, Uttarakhand.

The district magistrate’s office in the area has identified the eight missing as Martin Moran, the expedition leader, John Mclaren, Rupert Whewell and Richard Payne, all from Britain, Anthony Sudekum and Ronald Beimel from the US, Ruth McCance from Australia, and Chetan Pandey, a guide from the Indian Mountaineering Foundation.

Moran is a highly experienced climber who has led groups on expeditions to the mountains for almost three decades.

The climbers disappeared on the Indian side of the Himalayas. It is unclear whether they went missing during their ascent or descent.

It has been the deadliest mountaineering season since 2015, with at least 11 people – including a British man and an Irish man – dying on Everest amid overcrowding and poor weather.

The casualty rate in the region where the climbers are missing is almost five times higher than on Mount Everest, according to officials.

Moran was part of the first team to complete a continuous traverse of all the Alpine 4,000-metre peaks without using any motorised assistance, taking 52 days in 1993, and has also climbed numerous difficult Alpine routes including the north face of the Eiger. The author of three books on mountaineering, he runs his family-based expedition business with his wife, Joy, from Scotland.

Since launching his own guiding company, Moran has led more than 40 trips to the Indian mountain ranges and is regarded as an expert on the area, making more than a dozen pioneering ascents in the Himalaya as well as 100 new winter routes of high standard in Scotland.

In a grim year for Scottish mountaineering, two other top Scottish-based climbers have died: Andy Nisbet, a guide, and Tom Baldwin, who was lost during an attempt on Nanga Parbat.



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