Copters retrieve 7 bodies believed to be Himalayan climbers

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Seven bodies believed to be from a missing team of international climbers were evacuated in helicopters from a notoriously dangerous Himalayan mountain in northern India on Wednesday, officials said.

The bodies were brought to Pithoragarh town in northern India’s Uttarakhand state in Indian air force helicopters, said Vijay Jogdande, a local civil administrator. He said the bodies had remained unidentified so far as the faces are damaged and no identifying papers were found on them.

Jogdande said the remains will be taken to neighboring Haldwani city for the postmortem and identification process.

Veteran British mountaineer Martin Moran was leading three other Britons, two Americans, an Australian and an Indian on an expedition to climb Nanda Devi East. Moran’s Scotland-based company said contact with the team was lost on May 26 following an avalanche.

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An eighth body hasn’t been found and authorities abandoned the search.

“We tried our best but unfortunately we had to abandon the mission due to limitation of terrain, snow hazards and inclement weather as monsoon has set in,” said Vivek Kumar Pandey, a spokesman for the Indo-Tibetan Border Force.

They were first spotted on June 3 from a helicopter but authorities failed to retrieve them. On June 14, two teams from paramilitary soldiers and the Indian Mountaineering Federation were launched from two different directions to reach the spot and retrieve the bodies.

After about two weeks of climbing, the soldiers retrieved the bodies at an altitude of more than 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) and shifted them to a base camp from where they were picked up by helicopters on Wednesday.

Officials said the seven bodies were found roped in together.

Sandwiched between India and China, Nanda Devi East is a twin peak of Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest mountain and the world’s 23rd highest. The two peaks are connected by a razor-sharp 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) ridge at an elevation of 6,666 meters (22,000 feet).

Tenzing Norgay, the first man to climb Everest along with Sir Edmund Hillary, recently described Nanda Devi East as the toughest peak in the Himalayas. Since so few have managed to climb it, the mountain has remained pristine, unlike littered and congested Everest.

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