NEW DELHI — Eight mountain climbers missing for more than a week in the Indian Himalayas appear to have died in an avalanche, disaster response officials said Monday, citing aerial photographs that show bodies in the snow.
The climbers — four Britons, two Australians, one American and one Indian — had been out of contact since May 26, when they set off “with the ambition of summiting a virgin peak” on Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest mountain at more than 25,000 feet.
Amit Chowdhury, an official at the Indian Mountaineering Federation who is helping to coordinate search efforts with Indian forces, said operations had been hindered by bad weather. A close study of photographs taken during a helicopter flight early Monday showed at least five bodies, he said.
“It now appears that all the climbers were caught in an avalanche quite close to the spot where they had camped for the night,” Mr. Chowdhury said. “Plans are now being made to retrieve the bodies.”
Vijay Kumar Jogdande, the district magistrate of Pithoragarh, where the mountain is, said the photographs showed the leg of one of the climbers “with his shoe intact,” while four others could be seen bound to each other by a rope and partly covered by snow.
“We are working with this assumption now, that they are all dead,” Mr. Jogdande said.
According to the British Association of Mountain Guides, the original team of 12 split into two groups after reaching their base camp on May 18. One group of eight, led by Martin Moran, left for an acclimatization climb on an unnamed, unclimbed summit known as Peak 6477m. The other four climbers, led by Mark Thomas, went to prepare the route to Nanda Devi East, the lower of two adjacent peaks on the mountain. They were rescued on Sunday by Indian forces.
Both Mr. Thomas and Mr. Moran are members of the British association, and Mr. Moran is described as “legendary” for leading dozens of trips in the Himalayas.
Tripti Bhatt, the commander of the State Disaster Response Force in Uttarakhand, the state where the mountain is, said the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and medical units were also involved in the search and rescue operation. The Indian Air Force ran the helicopter flights.
Moran Mountain, an expedition company that Mr. Moran founded with his wife, said in a statement on Sunday that the avalanche appeared to be “on or very near” the route that his group would have taken.
“We are pressing for the search area to be widened and continued until such time as firm evidence is found to ascertain the well-being or otherwise of all those in the climbing group,” the statement said.
It has been an unusually dangerous season for climbers in the Himalayas, especially on the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, where a traffic jam on the Nepal side contributed to multiple deaths amid record numbers of visitors.
Nanda Devi, because of its steep slopes and persistent harsh weather, has long remained daunting to even those who have summited Everest. In 1980s, the Indian government declared the main Nanda Devi sanctuary off-limits as a biosphere reserve, but climbers have still been trying to reach the summit one of the peaks, Nanda Devi East, from other directions.
Anup Sah, a mountaineer and photographer who has made four unsuccessful attempts to reach the summit of Nanda Devi, said the terrain was “extremely difficult” with avalanches a constant threat. “The main peak is surrounded by gorges,” he said. “It is a very dangerous fixed-rope climb. God forbid you slip — you go deep into the gorge.”
In 1960s, the C.I.A. and the Indian intelligence service put together a team of experienced high-altitude climbers for a clandestine mission: Plant a sensor on the top of Nanda Devi to intercept information on Chinese nuclear tests.
The expedition was forced to end its mission because of harsh weather. They left their gear tied to rocks, expecting to return next spring. When they returned, the rock had been swept by avalanches and they found no trace of the equipment — including about 10 pounds of dangerous plutonium in capsules for a generator that was to power the sensing device. Search teams looked for the material for three years before giving up.
One of the most high-profile deaths on the mountain was that of a young American woman named for it. In July 1976, Willi Unsoeld, a member of the first American team to climb Mount Everest, set off for the summit with his 22-year-old daughter Nanda Devi Unsoeld as part of a larger expedition that had been described as troubled at the time.
But in early September, just 1,500 feet from the top, Nanda Devi Unsoeld succumbed to what was described as an “abdominal ailment, complicated by high altitude.” Her body was buried high on the mountain.
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