A senior mountain guide said that at least 17 people were killed after an avalanche triggered by Nepal’s massive earthquake slammed into a section of the Mount Everest mountaineering base camp, and 61 others were injured.
Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association said early Sunday that 22 of the seriously injured were taken by helicopter to Pheriche village, the nearest medical facility. Bad weather and poor communications are hampering more helicopter sorties.
The avalanche began on Mount Kumori, a 22,966-foot mountain just a few miles from Everest, roared through the nearby Khumbu Icefall and slammed into base camp, sending hundreds of climbers running for their lives, according to the Associated Press.
Nepal Tourism Ministry spokesman Gyanendra Shrestha said the death toll could rise and that the avalanche had buried part of the base camp. He said two tents at the camp had been filled with the injured.
“The toll could go up, it may include foreigners as well as Sherpas,” Shrestha told Britain’s the Telegraph newspaper.
One of those killed was Dan Fredinburg, a Google engineer based in California. He died as a result of head injuries when the avalanche hit, according to a statement from the mountaineering company that had taken him to base camp.
“We pray too for all those who have lost their lives in one of the greatest tragedies ever to hit this Himalayan nation,” Jagged Globe said.
On Saturday, Google confirmed Fredinburg’s death, with Lawrence You, the company’s director of privacy, posting online that Fredinburg was in Nepal with three other Google employees hiking Everest. The other three, he added, are safe.
Google would not give further details. According to the technology blog Re/Code, Fredinburg was an experienced climber who co-founded, in his spare time, Google Adventure. The project aims to “translate the Google Street View concept into extreme, exotic locations like the summit of Mount Everest or the Great Barrier Reef off Australia,” according to Startup Grind, a global startup community.
Another company, Adventure Consultants, said in a news release that two of its staff members were among those killed in the avalanche. The company did not release their names pending notification of their families.
Tourism Ministry officials estimated that at least 1,000 climbers, including about 400 foreigners, had been at base camp or on Everest when the quake struck.
April is one of the most popular times to scale the 29,035-foot peak, before rain and clouds cloak it at the end of May. Almost exactly a year ago, an avalanche killed 16 Nepali guides in what was the single deadliest day on the mountain.
On Saturday, Romanian climber Alex Gavan made a desperate appeal for a helicopter to fly in and evacuate climbers: “Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap.”
While helicopters would normally be used to pluck stranded climbers, it was unclear whether any would be available for Everest, given the devastation in and around Kathmandu.
Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, a Danish climber, said about 40 people were being treated in a makeshift hospital at a tent at base camp. He said many of those injured had back injuries from being hit by rocks and ice when running from the avalanche.
The poor visibility after the first avalanche meant it was “difficult to see the following avalanches, and there are so many — maybe one every 5 min. — that I have stopped counting,” Pedersen said on Facebook.
Mohan Krishna Sapkota, joint secretary in the Nepalese Tourism Ministry, said the government was struggling to assess the damage on Everest because of poor phone coverage.
“It is almost impossible to get in touch with anyone,” Sapkota said.
The magnitude-7.8 quake struck around noon Saturday, about 50 miles northwest of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu.
The avalanche triggered by the quake arrived just over a year after another avalanche near Everest base camp claimed the lives of 13 Nepali mountain guides, marking it as the single greatest loss of life in the mountain’s deadly history.
Images from base camp showed climber’s belongings strewn across the ground and brightly-colored tents covered in snow. Reports on Twitter suggested that some climbers were evacuating the area, while others remained to help facilitate rescue efforts.
Pedersen, the Danish climber, told the AP that he and a Belgian companion were at the Khumbu Icefall, “close to the base camp at an altitude of 5,000 meters, when the earthquake hit.”
“We are starting to receive the injured, the most severe of them with many fractures, he was blown away by the avalanche and broke both legs,” he wrote on Facebook. “For the camps closer to where the avalanche hit, our Sherpas believe that a lot of people may have been buried in their tents.”
Climbers described a chaotic scene that included multiple aftershocks and avalanches that turned the already dangerous mountain into a trembling nightmare.
Capt. Tim Bradshaw, leader of a British army team attempting to scale the peak, told Sky News that his tent started to “rock and move” as the earthquake hit.
“Then almost like thunder, huge boulders started to break around us from the side of the mountain and roll down towards the bottom, towards base camp,” he said.
“Everyone here is fine,” he added, “but we are on the other side of the mountain away from the Nepal side, quite away from the epicenter.”
Over the past six decades, more than 4,000 climbers have scaled Everest, with hundreds more attempting to do so during the two-month climbing season each spring, according to the Associated Press. The number of climbers has spiked in recent years, with more than 800 climbers reaching the summit in the 2013 spring season, the AP reported.