PITHORAGARH, India (Reuters) - Indian authorities will likely take at least 10 days to recover the bodies of a group of climbers feared killed in an avalanche high in the Himalayas, government and police officials said on Wednesday.
The eight climbers - four from Britain, two from the United States, and one each from Australia and India - were reported missing last Friday after they failed to return to their base camp near Nanda Devi, India’s second highest mountain.
An Indian air force helicopter on Monday spotted five bodies partially buried in snow high on a mountain slope.
The status of the other three climbers is not known, but officials have said the possibility of their survival is remote, and their bodies are likely to be near the five who had been spotted.
The recovery mission began early on Wednesday but was halted after encountering technical problems, officials said.
Another survey by air will be made this week to find a way to reach the bodies or a team will be sent on foot, but they will need time to acclimatize, officials said.
“It will take at least 10 days to remove the bodies,” said Vijay Kumar Jogdande, the top government official in the remote mountain area.
“No bodies have so far been recovered from the three initial sorties this morning,” he said earlier.
The climbers were attempting to scale an unnamed, previously unclimbed 6,477 meter (21,250 feet) peak near Nanda Devi when their route was hit by a “sizeable avalanche”, the company that organized the expedition, Moran Mountain, said earlier.
Jogdande said the location of the bodies suggested that they may have changed course and taken a route they had not initially planned.
The paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police Force is leading the mission to bring the bodies to the town of Pithoragarh in Uttarakhand state.
It has been one of the deadliest climbing seasons in the Himalayas for several years.
More than 20 people have been killed in the mountains, including 11 on Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak that has seen several fatalities in 2019 due to poor weather conditions, inexperienced climbers and overcrowding.
Nanda Devi, at 7,816 meters (25,643 feet), and its sister mountain, Nanda Devi East, are among the world’s most challenging peaks and only a handful of people have climbed them.
Reporting by Sankalp Phartiyal in PITHORAGARH; Writing by Euan Rocha and Swati Bhat; Editing by Darren Schuettler, Robert Birsel