SEOUL (Reuters) - The bodies of five South Korean mountaineers who lost their lives climbing in the Himalayas were returned to their home country on Wednesday, with officials blaming the disaster on a “sudden gust of wind.”
The team of nine, including four Nepali guides, died in Nepal’s worst climbing disaster in two years when a storm hit the Himalayan peak they were scaling last week.
The Korean expedition was led by Kim Chang-ho, who set the record in 2013 for being the fastest to reach the summits of the world’s 14 highest mountains over 8,000 meters (26,250 feet) without using supplemental oxygen.
Weeping relatives were at Incheon airport to receive the coffins containing the bodies of the five climbers. Some mourners held portraits of their loved ones.
The team was trying to blaze a new route on the south face of Mount Gurja, Yonhap news agency said. The 7,193 meter-high peak (23,600 feet) is located roughly 216 km (135 miles) northwest of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.
Their bodies were found on Saturday near their base camp about 3,500 meters (11,500 feet) above sea level.
The disaster appeared to be caused by a “sudden gust of wind,” Lee In-jung, chairman of the Union of Asian Alpine Associations, told reporters.
“I believe it might be the first time in the history of climbing the Himalayas that an accident was caused this way,” he said, adding it could deter people from climbing there.
Lee said the belongings of the climbers, including footage from a documentary filmmaker on the team, had not been fully recovered.
A joint funeral ceremony is expected to be held at Kim’s alma mater, the University of Seoul, on Friday, according to Yonhap.
Reporting by Daeun Yi; Writing by Joyce Lee; Editing by Peter Cooney and Darren Schuettler