KATMANDU, Nepal – A rescue helicopter spotted nine more bodies Saturday on a trekking trail in northern Nepal, bringing the death toll to 38 from this week’s series of snow storms and avalanches in the worst hiking disaster in the Himalayan nation.
The bodies were seen in a remote mountainous area, but the steep terrain made it impossible for the helicopter to land, said Yadav Koirala from the Disaster Management Division in Kathmandu.
The helicopter was able to pick up three survivors from near where the bodies were spotted in Dolpa district, he said. The latest fatalities were on snowy slopes that would take hours to reach by foot from the nearest point where the helicopter could land.
The victims are most likely Nepalese porters, said Ram Chandra Sharma of the Trekking Agents Association of Nepal.
Dolpa district is next to Manang and Mustang districts in the popular Annapurna mountain range trail where most of the foreign trekkers and Nepalese guides and villagers were killed this week. Among the dead were Canadians, Indians, Israelis, Slovaks and Poles.
While more than 300 people have been rescued, sometimes plucked from mountainsides by helicopters and taken to nearby villages and towns, dozens more are still taking shelter in isolated mountain huts, said government administrator Yama Bahadur Chokhyal.
The snow storms were whipped by the tail end of a cyclone that hit the Indian coast a few days earlier. The weather has since improved and sunny skies and calm wind conditions were helping the rescue efforts.
The blizzards swept through the Annapurna trekking route and hikers were caught off-guard when the weather changed quickly.
Most of the people were on or near the Annapurna Circuit, a 220-kilometre (140-mile) trail through the mountain, the 10th-highest in the world. The biggest number of casualties were the trekkers caught in the blizzard on Thorong La pass, which is one of the highest points on the Annapurna trekking route.
Five climbers – two Slovaks and three Nepalese guides – were killed in a separate avalanche about 75 kilometres (45 miles) to the west, at the base camp for Mount Dhaulagiri, the world’s seventh-highest peak.
The deaths are the worst hiking disaster in Nepal, where an avalanche in April just above the base camp on Mount Everest killed 16 Nepalese guides.