KATHMANDU, Nepal – At least nine people are dead and officials say several others, including a Quebec doctor, are missing after an avalanche smashed into a climbing expedition on a Himalayan peak in Nepal on Sunday.
The missing Canadian has been identified as cardiologist Dominique Ouimet, 48.
The doctor’s sister, Isabelle Ouimet, confirmed his disappearance on the Facebook page of Expes.
In Ottawa, Foreign Affairs spokeswoman Chrystiane Roy said officials had been in contact with authorities in Nepal.
“We are following the developments closely and stand ready to provide consular assistance should there be a need,” Roy said Sunday. “Our thoughts are with the victims (and their families) of this avalanche.”
Ouimet was using the Himalayan expedition to raise money for the St-Jerome Regional Hospital north of Montreal and last week did several interviews with the Quebec media.
The avalanche hit at about 4 a.m. Sunday while more than two dozen climbers were still sleeping in their tents high on the world’s eighth-tallest peak, Mount Manaslu, said Dolraj Dhakal, government administrator in the area. He said no one saw it coming and they were unable describe its size.
Rescue helicopters were flying over the slopes of the northern Nepal peak on Monday to search for the missing climbers. Many of the climbers were French, German and Italian.
Rescuers brought down eight bodies by midday Monday and were trying to retrieve the ninth from the 7,000-metre area where the avalanche struck, police Chief Basanta Bahadur Kuwar said. Four helicopters were searching by air and climbers and guides were searching the slopes on foot.
At least six more climbers were believed to be still missing. Kuwar said the identities of the climbers killed and missing were still unclear but he confirmed that the missing included Ouimet.
The French Foreign Ministry said four French climbers were among the dead and two others were missing. Three French climbers were pulled from the snow and taken by helicopter to a hospital in Kathmandu, it said.
“The situation continues to evolve, due to the atmospheric conditions,” it said in a statement Monday.
Spain’s Foreign Ministry said one Spanish climber was killed.
Ten climbers survived, but many of them were injured and were flown to hospitals by rescue helicopters. Two Germans were transported to hospitals in Kathmandu on Sunday, and two Italians were flown there Monday.
Isabelle Ouimet expressed disappointment and frustration late Sunday about the lack of information she was getting about the situation in Nepal.
“I’d like it if someone in the organization would take the trouble to provide us with news,” she wrote on her own Facebook page.
“Nobody has contacted the family of Dominique Ouimet. I’ve done phone interviews on the radio and television in Canada. I have more tomorrow. I’ll have to be honest and tell them the truth: we don’t know who’s in charge of the search, how the search is being done, what steps have been taken so far. After the shock, anger is rising. Time is of the essence.”
Italian, German and French teams were on the mountain, with a total of 231 climbers and guides, but not all were at the higher camps hit by the avalanche.
Sunday’s avalanche came at the start of Nepal’s autumn climbing season, when the end of the monsoon rains makes weather in the high Himalayas unpredictable. Spring is a more popular mountaineering season, when hundreds of climbers crowd the high Himalayan peaks.
Mount Manaslu is 8,156 metres high and has attracted more climbers recently because it is considered one of the easier peaks to climb among the world’s tallest mountains.
Nepal has eight of the 14 highest peaks in the world. Climbers have complained in recent years that conditions on the mountains have deteriorated and risks of accidents have increased.
Veteran guide Apa, who has climbed Mount Everest a record 21 times, travelled across Nepal earlier this year campaigning about the effects of global warming on the mountains.
He told The Associated Press the mountains now have considerably less ice and snow, making it harder for climbers to use ice axes and crampons on their boots to get a grip on the slopes.
Loose snow also increases the risk of avalanches. The cause of Sunday’s avalanche was not immediately determined.
Avalanches are not very frequent on Mount Manaslu, but in 1972 one struck a team of climbers and killed six Koreans and 10 Nepalese guides.
Ang Tshering of the Asian Trekking agency in Kathmandu, who has equipped hundreds of expeditions, said the low level of snow and increased number of climbers on Manaslu has made climbing conditions difficult.
“It used to be a low-risk mountain in the past but now that has all changed,” Tshering said, adding that conditions have become more unpredictable.