Choppers retrieve 7 bodies believed to be Himalayan climbers

Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) personnel carry the body of a mountaineer retrieved from Nanda Devi after landing in a helicopter in Pithoragarh in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2019

Choppers retrieve 7 bodies believed to be Himalayan climbers

  • 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
  • After two weeks of climbing, soldiers retrieved the bodies at an altitude of more than 5,000 meters and moved them to a base camp, from where they were picked up by helicopters

LUCKNOW, India: Seven bodies believed to be from a missing team of international climbers were retrieved by helicopters from a notoriously dangerous Himalayan mountain in northern India on Wednesday, officials said.
Indian air force helicopters brought the bodies to Pithoragarh town in northern India’s Uttarakhand state, said Vijay Jogdande, a local civil administrator. He said the bodies were still unidentified because the faces were damaged and no identifying papers were found on them.
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.
An eighth body hasn’t been found and authorities have abandoned the search.
“We tried our best but unfortunately we had to abandon the mission due to the 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.
He said authorities are taking DNA samples from the bodies, and after identification will hand them over to their countries through diplomatic channels.
They were first spotted on June 3 from a helicopter but authorities were unable to retrieve them. On June 14, two teams from paramilitary soldiers and the Indian Mountaineering Federation were sent from two different directions to reach the area 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 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 Mount 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.


Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

Updated 15 min 32 sec ago

Smoke haze settles over Australian capital as bushfires burn

  • Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday
  • The state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are 'in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.'

SYDNEY: Smoke haze from bushfires raging in Australia spread to the capital Sunday, as firefighters raced to contain more than 140 blazes ahead of a heatwave forecast early this week.

Australia is experiencing a horrific start to its fire season, which scientists say began earlier and is more extreme this year due to a prolonged drought and the effects of climate change.

Residents of Canberra in the country’s southeast woke up to see the capital shrouded in haze Sunday, joining those in Sydney who have endured weeks of toxic air pollution caused by bushfire smoke.

Officials said favorable weather conditions had given them a chance to bring several blazes under control before the forecast return of strong winds and high temperatures Tuesday.

Among those is a “mega fire” burning across 250,000 hectares within an hour’s drive of Sydney, Australia’s largest city, where ash from the fires has occasionally fallen.

Firefighters are now bracing for Tuesday, when temperatures are expected to reach above 40 Celsius in parts of New South Wales state — worst-hit by the bushfires — and gusting westerly winds are likely to fan the flames.

“Today (fire) crews will be doing what they can to consolidate and strengthen containment lines, which in some areas will include backburning,” NSW Rural Fire Service spokesman Greg Allan told AFP.

But the state’s Bureau of Meteorology warned that the massive fires are “in some cases just too big to put out at the moment.”

“They’re pumping out vast amounts of smoke which is filling the air, turning the sky orange & even appearing like significant rain on our radars,” the department tweeted.

Nearly 50 reinforcements from the United States and Canada have been flown in to support fatigued firefighters in recent days, with the international contingent tasked with providing logistical assistance.

In neighboring Queensland, the focus was also on managing fatigue among frontline firefighters — who in both states are almost all volunteers — as weather there provided a brief reprieve from weeks of battling blazes.

“We’re just looking to wind down and recover and prepare for the next round, whenever that may be,” a Queensland Fire and Emergency Service spokesman told AFP.

Since the crisis began in September, six people have been killed, more than 700 homes destroyed and an estimated two million hectares (almost five million acres) scorched.

Though the human toll has been far lower than the deadliest fire season in 2009 — when almost 200 people died — the scale of this year’s devastation has been widely described as unprecedented, as Australians grapple with the impacts of a changing climate.

Official data shows 2019 is on track to be one of the hottest and driest years on record in Australia.