Mountain guide and three British climbers among eight feared dead after attempting to climb Himalayan peak
A mountain guide and three amateur British climbers were among eight people feared dead last night (SUNDAY) after they vanished while attempting to scale a "virgin peak" in the Himalayas.
Experienced mountaineer Martin Moran led an expedition to summit the previously unclimbed Nanda Devi East peak, part of India’s second-highest mountain, that involved Richard Payne, a geography lecturer at the University of York, John McLaren and Rupert Whewell.
Mr Moran’s family last night said there was "clear evidence" an avalanche had hit the mountain near the climbing group’s route, as they appealed for the search and rescue effort to be widened today.
The incident comes amid mounting concerns surrounding climbers’ safety in the Himalayas, highlighted recently by photographs showing hordes of explorers queuing to ascend Mount Everest.
American citizens Ronald Beimel and Anthony Sudekum, Australian national Ruth McCance and Indian guide Chetan Pandey were among the party when they disappeared on Friday while attempting to summit a never-before-climbed peak at 6,477m.
Indian officials admitted the survival chances for the climbers were "bleak". One said footprints had been spotted in the snow leading into the avalanche.
Two Indian air force helicopters were scrambled to search the mountains on Saturday. The search is set to resume today (MONDAY) after the operation was suspended yesterday because of bad weather.
Mr Moran led the group on its ascent on May 13 as part of a planned four-week trip. His party was reported missing after failing to reach the Nanda Devi base camp on Friday and the nearby village of Munsiyari on Saturday.
Local government officials confirmed "multiple avalanches" had hit the route where the climbers had been exploring.
Speaking yesterday, Vijay Kumar Jogdanda, a civil administrator in northern India’s Uttarakhand state, said: "The first aerial recce has concluded.
“There were only tents spotted, but no human presence. The second helicopter has left for the recce.
“Chances of survival are bleak.
"The route is extremely dangerous and risky. There have been multiple avalanches on the route."
He warned further missions on foot would be dependent on whether "any evidence is found" that the climbers may have survived.
Indian officials said rescue efforts would be guided by four other British climbers who were resting at the second base camp after being rescued separately on Sunday.
Mr Moran, who is originally from Tyneside, was described by friends as "an absolute professional" and a "genuinely nice guy".
Nigel Vardy, who said he has known Mr Moran for 20 years, said: "Martin is a fantastic guy but if the weather and the conditions are not with you, then no matter how skilled you are the mountain is going to have its way."
Mr Moran has been a mountain guide since 1985 and set up his company Moran Mountain, which is based in Strathcarron in the Highlands, together with his wife Joy – with the couple’s grown up children Hazel and Alex both also working with the family business.
In a statement, his family appealed to rescuers to enlarge the search for the climbers when it resumes today.
Nanda Devi – Avalanche
It read: "We are pressing for the search area to be widened and continued until such time as firm evidence is found to ascertain the wellbeing or otherwise of all those in the climbing group."
This year’s climbing season in the Himalayas has proved to be one of the deadliest years on record, with 11 deaths reported so far this year.
The dangers were highlighted earlier this year through photographs which show long queues of climbers snaking up Mount Everest’s "Death Zone", sparking calls to restrict access to the peaks.
A record-breaking 381 permits were issued by Nepalese authorities this year for the spring season, causing alarm among some experienced expedition leaders.
Nanda Devi – Mountain image
One mountaineering company boss, who wished to remain anonymous, told The Telegraph there was concern about "budget companies who have very little to no experience" targeting novice climbers from China and India.
"It is mind boggling," he said, recounting an experience he had on the Khumbu Icefall last year. "There was a gentleman on there laid out like a starfish while his Sherpa put his harness and crampons on him. It’s not really acceptable."
A Foreign Office spokesperson said: “We are in contact with the Indian authorities following reports that a number of British nationals are missing in the Indian Himalayas.
"We will do all we can to assist any British people who need our help."
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