KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — Helicopters flew over the high slopes of a northern Nepal peak on Monday to search for six climbers believed lost in an avalanche that killed at least nine others. Many of the climbers were French, German and Italian.
The avalanche hit at about 4 a.m. Sunday while more than two dozen climbers were sleeping in their tents at a camp high on the world's eighth-tallest peak, Mount Manaslu, said Dolraj Dhakal, government administrator in the area. He said no one saw it coming and they were unable describe its size.
Rescuers brought down eight bodies by midday Monday and were trying to retrieve the ninth from the 7,000-meter (22,960-foot) area where the avalanche struck, police Chief Basanta Bahadur Kuwar said. Four helicopters were searching by air and climbers and guides were searching the slopes on foot.
Ten climbers survived, but many of them were injured and were flown to hospitals by rescue helicopters. Three French climbers and two Germans were transported to hospitals in Katmandu on Sunday, and two Italians were flown there Monday.
Veteran Italian mountaineer Silvio Mondinelli, who has climbed the world's 14 highest mountains, said he and fellow climber Christian Gobbi were sleeping in a tent when they heard a violent sound and felt their tent start to slide.
"It was only a few seconds and we did not know what happened but we had slid more than 200 meters (650 feet)," Mondinelli told The Associated Press in Katmandu.
He said another Italian climber and their Sherpa guide were sleeping in another tent and were buried by the avalanche and died.
Gobbi said they were unable to see at first because it was so dark and they had no light.
"We found someone's boots and put them on," he said.
When the sun rose an hour later, they saw parts of tents scattered across the snow, along with people who had been killed or injured.
They said they were able to assist the injured with the help of Sherpa guides who came from lower camps. Those who could walk made their way down to the base camp while those who were injured were picked up by helicopters.
The French Foreign Ministry said four French climbers were among the dead and two others were missing.
"The situation continues to evolve, due to the atmospheric conditions," it said in a statement Monday.
Spain's Foreign Ministry said one Spanish climber was killed.
Italian, German and French teams were on the mountain, with a total of 231 climbers and guides, but not all were at the higher camps hit by the avalanche.
Sunday's avalanche came at the start of Nepal's autumn climbing season, when the end of the monsoon rains makes weather in the high Himalayas unpredictable. Spring is a more popular mountaineering season, when hundreds of climbers crowd the high Himalayan peaks.
Mount Manaslu is 8,156 meters (26,760 feet) high and has attracted more climbers recently because it is considered one of the easier peaks to climb among the world's tallest mountains.
Nepal has eight of the 14 highest peaks in the world. Climbers have complained in recent years that conditions on the mountains have deteriorated and risks of accidents have increased.
Veteran guide Apa, who has climbed Mount Everest a record 21 times, traveled across Nepal earlier this year campaigning about the effects of global warming on the mountains.
He told The Associated Press the mountains now have considerably less ice and snow, making it harder for climbers to use ice axes and crampons on their boots to get a grip on the slopes.
Loose snow also increases the risk of avalanches. The cause of Sunday's avalanche was not immediately determined.
Avalanches are not very frequent on Mount Manaslu, but in 1972 one struck a team of climbers and killed six Koreans and 10 Nepalese guides.
Ang Tshering of the Asian Trekking agency in Katmandu, who has equipped hundreds of expeditions, said the low level of snow and increased number of climbers on Manaslu has made climbing conditions difficult.
"It used to be a low-risk mountain in the past but now that has all changed," Tshering said, adding that conditions have become more unpredictable.