Nepal to repatriate South Koreans killed on remote peak

AFP Nepal Oct 16, 2018, 08.25 PM(IST)

South Koreans in Nepal Photograph:( AFP )

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The South Koreans, led by record-holding climber Kim Chang-ho, were on remote Mount Gurja when their camp was hit by a sudden, powerful gust most likely caused by a powerful downblast from an avalanche.

The bodies of five South Korean climbers killed in one of the deadliest mountaineering accidents to hit Nepal in recent years were due to be flown home Tuesday, an official said.

The South Koreans, led by record-holding climber Kim Chang-ho, were on remote Mount Gurja when their camp was hit by a sudden, powerful gust most likely caused by a powerful downblast from an avalanche.

The massive impact left the bodies of the climbers -- and those of four Nepali guides with the expedition -- scattered over 500 metres (1,640 feet). 

All nine bodies were retrieved from the remote location in the Dhaulagiri mountain range on Sunday, more than 24 hours after the only surviving team member -- who was in a village a day's walk away -- raised the alarm.

The remains of the five foreign climbers will be flown home from Nepal on Tuesday evening, said Shiva Pokharel, an official with South Korea's embassy in Kathmandu. 

"The postmortem has been completed... but the results will take about a week," he added.

It was Nepal's worst mountaineering accident since 2015, when a powerful earthquake triggered an avalanche that killed 18 people at Mount Everest's base camp.

Mount Gurja, a rarely-climbed peak last summited in 1996, lacks the level of infrastructure on Mount Everest, which sees hundreds of climbers reach the top each year. 

The isolated location of the 7,193-metre peak complicated the retrieval mission.

But it was also likely a draw for Kim. The veteran mountaineer had turned his sights to climbing lesser-known peaks after summiting all 14 of the world's highest mountains -- the first South Korean to achieve the feat.

It is unclear if investigators will be able to piece together why the freak accident was so deadly, claiming the lives of everyone at the base camp.

Dan Richards of US-based Global Rescue, which helped to retrieve the bodies, said it was unlike anything he had seen in 14 years assisting with mountain rescue operations.

"We are still scratching our heads trying to figure out what happened to these experienced mountain climbers," he said.

Thousands of climbers flock to Nepal each year -- home to eight of the world's 14 highest peaks -- creating a lucrative mountain tourism industry that is a vital source of cash for the impoverished country.