At least 26 people have been confirmed dead after an avalanche struck climbers in the Indian Himalayas, officials said Friday, with bad weather hampering the fourth day of search and rescue efforts.
A group of 41 climbing trainees and their teachers were caught in Tuesday’s massive snowslide near the summit of Mount Draupadi ka Danda II in the northern state of Uttarakhand.
“We have retrieved 26 bodies so far — 24 of them were trainees and two bodies are those of instructors,” an official from the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, a government agency, told AFP.
Three members of the expedition remained missing, the official added, but bad weather forced an early end to Friday’s search. Rescue operations will resume Saturday.
Uttarakhand state disaster agency spokesperson Ridhim Aggarwal told AFP that 32 people had been rescued from the site.
An update from the Uttarkashi district disaster management agency later clarified that the figure included 20 people at the trek’s advance base camp who had not been hit by the avalanche.
Survivor Naib Subedar Anil Kumar told the Indian Express that he and some of his fellow climbers had been pulled into a crevasse when the avalanche hit their ropes.
“When the snow began to settle, I undid the ropes and started to rescue my teammates,” he told the newspaper. “However, there was little we could do.”
Sunil Lalwani, one of the rescued trainee climbers, credited the instructors for saving many lives.
“We were 50-100 meters from the summit with our instructors ahead of us, when suddenly an avalanche hit us and took everyone down,” Lalwani was quoted as saying by the Hindustan Times on Thursday.
“It happened in a matter of seconds,” he added. “We were somehow able to breathe… It’s because of them that we are alive today.”
Among the bodies recovered earlier in the week was that of climber Savita Kanswal, who had summited Everest this year.
Kanswal was an instructor with the expedition and had been feted by the climbing community for summiting the world’s highest peak and nearby Makalu in just 16 days — a women’s record.
Fatal accidents common
Fatal climbing accidents are common in the Himalayas, home to Everest and several of the world’s highest peaks.
In August, the body of a mountaineer was recovered two months after he fell into a crevasse while crossing a glacier in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh.
Last week, renowned U.S. ski mountaineer Hilaree Nelson’s body was found on the slopes of Nepal’s Manaslu peak after she went missing skiing down the world’s eighth-highest mountain.
The same day, Nepali climber Anup Rai was killed and a dozen others were injured after an avalanche on the 8,163-meter mountain.
Although no substantial research has been done on the impacts of climate change on mountaineering risks in the Himalayas, climbers have reported crevasses widening, running water on previously snowy slopes, and the increasing formation of glacial lakes.