Terrifying hour in darkness after Nepal avalanche

Associated Press Modified: September 25, 2012 at 12:01 am •  Published: September 24, 2012

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) — The mountaineers were in darkness when they heard the thunderous boom, the crush of snow. Helplessly, they slid down Mount Mansalu, the world's eighth-highest peak.

It would take an hour for the sun to rise and for the survivors to see what horrors the avalanche had wrought.

Pieces of tents and bodies of victims were strewn around on the snow on the Himalayan peak in Nepal. Several other people were injured, and more still were simply gone.

"It was only a few seconds and we did not know what happened, but we had slid more than 200 meters (650 feet)," Italian climber Silvio Mondinelli told The Associated Press on Monday. "All we wanted was for it to stop."

Rescuers have brought down eight bodies — four French, one each from Germany, Italy and Spain, and a Nepali guide. Many of the 10 survivors, including Mondinelli, were injured and flown to hospitals by rescue helicopters.

The number of climbers unaccounted for is unclear. Officials had said Monday that they were attempting to recover a ninth body, and that six other people remained missing, but they were more tentative about those numbers Tuesday.

Police Chief Basanta Bahadur Kuwar said there was lot of confusion among the climbers and since the avalanche occurred at an elevation of 7,000 meters (22,960 feet), it was difficult for anyone but trained Sherpa guides to reach.

Nepal Mountaineering Department chief Balkrishan Ghimire said Tuesday that officials had the names of only three people reported missing. The government does not have officials posted on the mountain and the nearest police station is two-day trek away from the base camp.

Two French climbers were still unaccounted for as of Monday afternoon, the French Foreign Ministry said.

The aerial search for the missing has ended, but officials said Sherpa guides were continuing to search the snowy slopes.

The avalanche hit about 4 a.m. Sunday while more than two dozen climbers were sleeping in tents at Camp 3 on Mount Manaslu.

Three French climbers and two Germans were transported to hospitals in Katmandu on Sunday. Two Italians were flown there Monday — Mondinelli, who has climbed the world's 14 highest peaks, and fellow mountaineer Christian Gobbi.

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