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Helicopters rescue Qomolangma avalanche victims

Updated: 2015-04-27 05:39
(China Daily/Agencies)

Helicopters rescue Qomolangma avalanche victims

Helicopters airlifted injured climbers off Mount Qomolangma on Sunday after an avalanche killed at least 18 people, including one Chinese national, when a big aftershock hit the world's highest peak.

The first group of survivors from the earthquake-triggered avalanche that swept through the Qomolangma base camp were flown to Katmandu and taken to hospitals. None appeared to have life-threatening injuries.

At least six helicopters landed at base camp in Nepal, Agence France-Presse's Kathmandu bureau chief Ammu Kannampilly reported after weather conditions improved overnight.

"People being stretchered out as choppers land — half a dozen this morning," Kannampilly said in a text message.

Photographs showed an enormous cloud of snow and debris cascading down the mountain, known as Mount Everest in the West, as survivors recalled the horrifying moment that disaster struck on Saturday.

"I ran and it just flattened me. I tried to get up and it flattened me again," said marine biologist George Foulsham, who lives in Singapore.

A spokesman for Nepal's Tourism Department, which issues permits to climb the mountain, said the death toll there had risen to 18 with more than 60 injured.

Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said the nationalities of those killed are unclear, "but most of them would be foreigners".

Sherpa said there were more than 800 people at different places when the avalanche, triggered by the massive earthquake, struck.

Climbers reported smaller avalanches on the mountain on Sunday after a magnitude-6.7 aftershock hit Nepal at lunchtime.

Many had traveled to Nepal for the start of the annual climbing season, which was canceled last year after 16 Sherpa guides were killed in what was previously the deadliest disaster in the mountain's history.

Google executive Dan Fredinburg was among the handful of victims to have been identified so far. Google.org is contributing $1 million to the response efforts.

Kanchaman Tamang, a Nepali cook who was working for the Jagged Globe tour group, said the tragedy is particularly painful coming so soon after last year's deaths. "I was in the dining tent when the avalanche hit — it sent the tent flying," he said.

Twenty-two of the most seriously injured were taken by helicopter for treatment in the village of Pheriche.

A plane carrying 15 injured people later arrived in Katmandu from Lukla, home of the nearest airport to Qomolangma. Officials declined to provide details of their conditions, but most appeared to have broken bones or other treatable injuries. Of those evacuated, 12 were Sherpas from Nepal. There was also one person each from China, South Korea and Japan.

Witnesses said the avalanche began on Mount Kumori, a 7,000-meter-high peak just a few kilometers from Qomolangma. It gathered strength as it headed toward base camp and the lower reaches of Qomolangma.

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