Update: Death Toll from Indian Mountaineering Disaster Climbs to 26
New details have emerged about the deadly avalanche that buried dozens of climbers in India on Tuesday
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The death toll from Tuesday’s avalanche in northern India has climbed to 26, making it one of the deadliest disasters in recent mountaineering history.
On Thursday, crews digging through a debris field located the bodies of 15 missing climbers. On Friday morning, rescuers found seven additional bodies. Both discoveries were announced by the Nehru Institute of Mountaineering, the alpinism school that was leading the 41-member expedition on 18,600-foot Draupadi Ka Danda II when the avalanche struck.
According to multiple reports, three people are still missing. Crews are hoping to bring the bodies to lower elevations in the coming days, but poor weather is hampering the recovery.
“Efforts are being made to bring the bodies to Matli helipad by advanced light helicopter today,” said Ashok Kumar of the Uttarakhand police force on Friday.
According to reports from Times of India and other outlets, the disaster occurred on the Dokriani Bamak glacier at approximatley 8:45 A.M. on Tuesday. The Indian Express reports that the group comprised 42 people: 34 students, seven instructors, and a nurse. The avalanche trapped at least 30 members of the party.
Website Asia Net News interviewed one of the survivors, named Rohit Bhatt, who said the avalanche struck the group when they were at 18,000 feet elevation, just a few hundred feet below the summit.
“The avalanche was so massive that we did not even get any time to think of anything. Within minutes everything turned white due to snow. Many of our fellow trainees and instructors got entrapped in the debris,” Bhatt said.
Bhatt said the massive slide buried some mountaineers and pushed others into a 60-foot crevasse. Bhatt said he was able to save himself by using his ice axe.
“If we had got even ten seconds of time, we could have saved more lives,” he said.
Rescue operations began on Tuesday afternoon, with The Washington Post reporting that two helicopters from the Indian air force aided in the search, alongside separate rescue teams from the Indian army and the national disaster force. By Tuesday evening, crews had rescued 12 climbers and located ten bodies, with 20 still missing on the mountain.
On Wednesday, crews located the body of one of the instructors, Savita Kanswal, an accomplished mountaineer. Earlier this year Kanswal became the first Indian woman to ascend Mount Everest and Makalu in a 16-day span.
The disaster occurred in the Indian state of Uttarakhand near the country’s border with China. The area’s remoteness has slowed rescue operations, as has bad weather on the glacier.
“Fresh snow, massive crevasses, and accessibility is a major challenge as one has to trek for around two days from Bhatwari through Tela and Jungle Chatti to reach the area,” Piyoosh Rautela of the Uttarakhand disaster management authority told The Times of India.
The Indian Express reported that the climbers had been taking classes in backcountry safety and mountaineering since September 14, and that they had already completed a course in rock climbing prior to their expedition on the glacier. The group was undergoing its high-alpine safety training on the glacier, and had arrived at Base Camp in late September. They were taking part in a class in high-altitude navigation when the avalanche occurred.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi addressed the disaster on Tuesday evening, saying: “It is saddening that we have lost precious lives of those associated with a NIM Uttarkashi mountaineering expedition. Condolences to the bereaved families.”
This story is developing.