A precarious rescue effort at the top of the world concluded Monday, with daring helicopter pilots ferrying stranded climbers to relative safety from the uppermost reaches of Mount Everest, the world’s deadliest peak.
Early Tuesday, Gordon Janow, the director of programs for the Seattle-based trekking company, Alpine Ascents International, said that about 100 remaining climbers stranded in two camps on the side of Mount Everest have all been rescued.
They were ferried by a small helicopter in groups of four or five from Camp 1, above the ice fall and the spot where Saturday’s avalanche occurred, Janow said. His company had six climbers, two guides and six Nepali sherpas on the face of the mountain who were stranded.
Clear weather helped three helicopter pilots working in rotation to airlift climbers, two by two, from Camps 1 and 2 — which are both above 21,000 feet — down to base camp.
At least 19 people — including four Americans — were killed on Everest when a massive avalanche triggered by an earthquake slammed into hundreds of tents at base camp. At least 61 people were injured.
The exact number of climbers rescued on Monday varied depending on the source of the information.
In an audio recording posted on his blog, Alan Arnette, a professional mountaineer who was stranded at camp 2, estimated that more than 150 people had been evacuated from camp 1 since the airlifts began. He echoed other estimates suggesting about 15 climbers remain on the mountain, above base camp.
“There are still about 12 or 15 people left up there and they’ll have to do another round of evacuations tomorrow,” Jon Kedrowski, a Colorado climber at base camp, told CW affiliate KWGN by satellite phone on Monday. “But we have clear skies for now and that’s good news.”
A Danish climber, Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, said 170 people who had been trapped on the mountain above where the avalanche originated and they were brought down in three helicopters from the spot known as Camp 1. “Everest is now empty,” he wrote on his Facebook blog, “Use the World.” But gear, tents and oxygen were left stashed on the mountain, ready to “rebuild” later in the climbing season.
Pedersen said in a Facebook message exchange with the Washington Post that he did not want to leave the mountain.
“We don’t need rescue from basecamp, many of us still want to climb,” he said.
Here is a video of some of the first people being rescued down to safety :-)
Posted by Use The World on Sunday, April 26, 2015
Once they reached base camp, climbers were confronted by the devastating aftermath of Saturday’s avalanche: Smashed tents, destroyed personal belongings and missing or dead friends.
“It looks like something out of a tornado that you’d see in the deep south of the United States or Oklahoma,”Arnette said on his audio recording. “As I was walking up, looking for our camp, it was unrecognizable for a long time. But I found shoes and socks and pieces of paper that were indications that individuals had lose their lives and property had been destroyed.”
According to the Guardian, the high altitude of the camps made them “inaccessible to larger aircraft, leaving pilots of the small Eurocopter B3s to fly multiple missions, touching down for no more than 30 seconds to pick up passengers.”
Writing on his blog two years ago, Arnette, the professional climber, noted that Everest rescues are possible but difficult, even by air.
“Helicopters can fly higher than the summit of Everest but landing to take on a passenger or body is dangerous,” he wrote.
Among those killed on Everest were at least four Americans, according to the State Department: Dan Fredinburg, a Google executive from Northern California; Marisa Eve Girawong, a physician’s assistant from Seattle; Tom Taplin, a filmmaker from Colorado; and Vinh B. Truong.
From his tent at base camp, Kedrowski told KWGN that aftershocks and limited supplies meant climbers were still at risk once they were airlifted off the mountain. He estimated that 60 percent of base camp’s original inhabitants had left Everest, but said his team was planning to remain to help those being airlifted from Camps 1 and 2.
“They’re coming back to a homeless situation,” he said. “We’re here to offer our support, giving them meals, giving them a place to stay and coordinating efforts to basically start safely moving down the Khumbu.”
Annie Gowen in Itanagar, India contributed to this report.
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