An avalanche triggered by Nepal’s massive earthquake slammed into a section of the Mount Everest base camp, killing at least 17, including a physician assistant working for a Seattle-based mountaineering company.
KATHMANDU, Nepal — An avalanche triggered by Nepal’s massive earthquake slammed into a section of the Mount Everest base camp, killing at least 17, including a physician assistant working for a Seattle-based mountaineering company.
At least 61 were injured, and an unknown number of climbers and guides were unaccounted for on other routes, an official said Sunday.
Seattle’s Madison Mountaineering said Marisa Eve Girawong, working as a base doctor, died on the mountain. Girawong, according to the company’s website, was completing a second master’s degree and getting a postgraduate diploma in mountain medicine at the University of Leicester in England.
Dan Fredinburg, a Google executive from Mountain View, Calif., who described himself as an adventurer, also was killed, Google confirmed.
At the time of the avalanche, about a half-dozen Washington companies — including Alpine Ascents, International Mountain Guides and Rainier Mountaineering — had expeditions on or near Everest. Those companies said Saturday their parties were safe.
The parties led by the Washington firms total dozens of climbers, Sherpas and porters.
But Madison Mountaineering had said earlier Saturday, Seattle time, that although it had contact with its group of about a dozen climbers in a camp high above the base camp, it had not heard from staff members who stayed behind.
In Seattle, Madison co-founder Kurt Hunter said Saturday he wasn’t sure how many crew or staff his company had in base camp, but the group typically would include a manager, a Sherpa crew and maybe a journalist.
The avalanche began Saturday on Mount Kumori, a 22,966-foot-high mountain just a few miles from Everest, gathering strength as it headed toward the base camp where climbing expeditions have been preparing to make their summit attempts in the coming weeks, he said.
The avalanche — or perhaps a series of them hidden in a massive white cloud — plowed into a part of base camp, a sprawling seasonal village of climbers, guides and porters, flattening at least 30 tents, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. All of the dead and injured were at base camp.
Many of the most seriously injured were taken by helicopter to Pheriche village, the nearest medical facility. Bad weather and communications hampered more helicopter sorties, Tshering said.
Numerous climbers may be cut off on routes leading to the top of the world’s highest peak.
On Internet messaging services, survivors described the terror as snow and ice roared through the nearby Khumbu Icefall and into the camp.
Azim Afif, 27, leader of a climbing team from University of Technology Malaysia, said on the service WhatsApp that his group was in a meal tent waiting for lunch when the table and everything around them began shaking.
They ran outside, saw “a wall of ice coming towards us,” and heard the cries of Sherpa guides shouting for people to run for their lives, he wrote. “We just think to find a place to hide and save our life.”
The small team planned to sleep overnight in one large tent “to make sure if anything happen, we are together,” Afif said.
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Quickly, though, climbing teams scattered across the camp to search for survivors.
Guide Dave Hahn wrote on the website of Ashford-based Rainier Mountaineering that he was in a camp above the base camp when the avalanche struck, but others in his team, including guide Mark Tucker, were down below and had worked feverishly to help the injured.
Gordon Janow, director of programs for the Washington-based guiding outfit Alpine Ascents International, said from Seattle that his team had come through the avalanche unscathed. Their first goal was to deal with the devastation at base camp, he said, and they would then try to create new routes to help climbers stuck above the treacherous Khumbu Icefall. The icefall, just above base camp, is a key route up the lower part of Everest.
“Everybody’s pretty much in rescue mode, but this is different from some independent climbing accident where people can be rescued and taken somewhere else,” Janow said. “I don’t know where somewhere else is.”
By Sunday morning, authorities said at least 1,865 people across the region had been confirmed dead.
Fredinburg, the Google executive, was with three other Google employees hiking Mount Everest, Lawrence You, the company’s director of privacy, posted online. The other three are safe. Fredinburg served as product manager and the head of privacy at Google X.
Hundreds of climbers — from some of the world’s most experienced mountaineers to relative novices on high-priced, well-guided trips — make summit attempts on Everest every year. At times, when the weather is agreeable, dozens can reach the summit in a single day. But high winds, brutal cold, difficult terrain and massive avalanches can hit the mountain with little or no notice. Hundreds have died on the mountain over the years.
The magnitude-7.8 quake struck Saturday about 50 miles northwest of Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, just over a year after the deadliest avalanche on record hit Everest, killing 16 Sherpa guides April 18, 2014.
Those deaths occurred at the Icefall, where the edge of the slow-moving glacier is known to crack, cave and send huge chunks of ice tumbling without warning.
More than 4,000 climbers have scaled the 29,035-foot summit since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. The numbers have skyrocketed recently. More than 800 climbers scaled the mountain during the 2013 spring season.
Mountain Madness, another Seattle company, didn’t have anyone at base camp this weekend, but had a team of about 40 — including 19 paying clients — in Namche Bazaar, a village at above 11,000 feet, on the way there. Two of the clients were to be married when they reached base camp, said Steve Guthrie, the company’s international program director.
The numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, with more than 800 climbers during the 2013 spring season.
Correction: Information in this article, originally published April 25, 2015, was corrected April 26, 2015. Due to a an editing error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated that more than 800 climbers died during the 2013 spring season. That was the total number of climbers on Everest.