Indians looking to recover bodies on Himalayan mountain

Emily Schmall
Associated Press
Nanda Devi twin peaks, seen from Chaukori in Uttarakhand, India.

New Delhi – Indian officials were working on a plan Tuesday to retrieve five bodies believed to be mountaineers from a team of international climbers that went missing on a notoriously dangerous Himalayan mountain.

All eight of the climbers that disappeared May 26 on Nanda Devi East are presumed dead, and the five bodies photographed by air Monday are thought to be from the missing expedition, said Vijay Kumar Jogdande, an official in Uttarakhand state, where the mountain is located.

The mountaineers, led by veteran British climber Martin Moran, had hoped to chart a new route to the 21,250-foot peak, but lost contact with base camp after an avalanche swept through a section of the mountain.

Nanda Devi East is a twin peak of Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest mountain, and the two are connected by a razor-sharp 1.2-mile ridge at an elevation of 22,000 feet.

Jogdande said state officials have devised a plan to use helicopters and a ground team to retrieve the five bodies, spotted at an altitude of 16,404 feet, and to search for the three mountaineers so far unaccounted for. He said the plan needs to be approved by the Indian government in New Delhi first because of the difficult terrain and the risk of another avalanche.

The team began its ascent May 13, according to Moran Mountain, Moran’s Scotland-based company. The team includes four Britons, two Americans, an Australian and an Indian liaison officer.

Maninder Kohli, a mountaineer who runs a trekking company from New Delhi that has taken groups on treks to Nanda Devi East base camp, said the snow level in the Indian Himalayas this year has been “abnormally high.”

“Apparently the walk-up to the base camp alone was a tedious task because of the snow accumulation,” he said.

According to Kohli, the typical route to the peak is along the southeast ridge, which Polish mountaineers used on the first documented ascent in 1939.

Moran led his team along the northeast ridge, hoping to establish the new route this spring after an unsuccessful attempt in 2015.