Rescuers abandon their attempts to find three Sherpas who are still missing after Everest’s worst ever climbing disaster, as Sherpas debate whether they close Everest for the rest of the year.
At least 13 were reported to have died in an avalanche. But a documentary maker, speaking from the slopes of the mountain, told Channel 4 News that he believed the death toll to be 16. Rescuers say there is now little chance of finding the remaining people “dead or alive”.
The news comes as the prospect of closing the mountain to expeditions for the rest of the year is raised. Channel 4 News understands that the Sherpas at base camp held crisis talks this morning and agreed the mountain should be closed for the rest of the season.
“I would feel better if all the expeditions for this year are cancelled because 15 to 20 people have been killed. It would be in respect for them. If all the climbing Sherpas were to do this, it would solve the problem, said guide Jyagba Sherpa, speaking in Kathmandu.
He added that the Nepalese government should try to convince expeditions not to set off. But Bhim Paudel of Himalayan Guides, a company that provides local logistics to foreign climbers and that lost six Sherpas in the avalanche, said not all the guides agreed.
“(Some) feel that Everest should be given rest this year while others want to continue. No decision has been taken yet,” Paudel told Reuters.
And the agency reported that others oppose closing Everest because the expeditions are their main livelihood, helping them make up to £3,000 a year in a country with an average annual income of just £400.
We have called off the search operation. It not possible to find the three missing persons, dead or alive Lakpa Sherpa
The government, for which expeditions are a main source of income, said it was up to the Sherpas to decide. “We have issued climbing permits. So we can’t ask anyone not to climb. Likewise we cannot force any one to climb,” Tourism Ministry official Tilakram Pandey said.
Search teams found no sign of the missing men on Friday and Saturday. They are believed to have been knocked into crevasses or trapped under snow while preparing the route for climbers.
“We have called off the search operation. It not possible to find the three missing persons, dead or alive,” said Lakpa Sherpa, of the Himalayan Rescue Operation, speaking from base camp, the starting point for Everest expeditions.
Some of the bodies already brought down from the mountain have been laid in a Sherpa Buddhist monastery in accordance with tradition. The rest were handed over to families in the Solukhumbu region where the accident took place, Reuters reported.
The bodies will be “carried out from the monastery and cremated separately”, said Ang Tshering Sherpa of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
The helicopters used in the search and to ferry bodies from the mountain have been called back to Kathmandu, an army spokesman said. The official death toll remains 13 fatalities.
The number of permits issued to climbers has risen from last year and, while the death toll fell last year, it has been steadily rising for decades.
The avalanche struck on Friday while a group of Sherpas were preparing the way for climbers who were due to follow. Speaking soon after, Ed Wardle said: “I believe 16 people are dead and several people are critically injured. Some have been airlifted back to Kathmandu and 10 to 15 people… managed to walk out of the avalanche.
“One of the most horrific sights I ever saw on Everest was seeing the bodies being airlifted on long lines below the helicopters.”