India begins 'high-risk' retrieval of dead climbers

British Climber and expedition’s deputy leader, Mark Thomas reacts as he talks to an Indian Air Force pilot in Pithoragarh town, in the Himalayan state of Uttarakhand, India. (Reuters)

An Indian helicopter carrying elite paramilitary mountaineers took off Wednesday for a "very high-risk" operation to retrieve five dead climbers and three others believed killed scaling a treacherous Himalayan peak.

Air Force choppers spotted five bodies Monday on the slopes of Nanda Devi in India's high north while looking for the four Britons, two Americans, one Indian and one Australian believed killed by an avalanche last week.

The remains of the three others, all part of originally a 12-member team led by highly experienced British climber Martin Moran, were believed to be nearby. Four other Britons split from the bigger group and were rescued on the weekend.

Wednesday's operation began at 5:00 am (2330 GMT) when a military helicopter with four Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) mountaineers and five Air Force personnel left the nearby hill town of Munsyari.

The ITBP climbers were to be dropped by the helicopter 18,000-20,000 feet (5,500-6,100 metres) up India's second-highest mountain, police spokesman Vivek Kumar Pandey told AFP.

Pandey on Tuesday described the mission as "a very high-risk and high-altitude operation" in a zone where avalanches are frequent.

"In recent times such a high-altitude retrieval has not been carried out in Indian mountains," he added.

Climbers 'knowingly risked' lives on Indian peak

Eight climbers believed to be dead on a treacherous Himalayan mountain "knowingly risked" their lives by changing their plans without permission, an Indian official said Tuesday.

Military helicopters involved in a major search for the four Britons, two Americans, an Australian and an Indian on Monday spotted five bodies on the Nanda Devi mountain.

The group, led by highly experienced British climber Martin Moran, had been given permission last month to scale the eastern peak of the mountain.

But Moran's mountaineering company announced on Facebook on May 22 after reaching a second base camp that they planned to attempt "an unclimbed peak" 6,477 metres (21,250 feet) high.

"This mountain range is more difficult to scale than Mount Everest. They knowingly risked their lives after changing their plans without informing the authorities," an official in Uttarakhand state, where the mountain range is located, told AFP.

"The permission was granted for Nanda Devi east and any diversion is illegal. We were completely unaware of their changed plan and that turned fatal," he said, preferring to remain anonymous.

Surendar S. Panwar from local trekking operator Cosmos Tour and Expedition, said that Moran was highly experienced and had previously climbed in the area.

"It is quite surprising how a qualified mountaineer like him made a mistake," Panwar told AFP.

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