KATHAMANDU: Nine members of a South Korean climbing expedition team were killed when a violent snowstorm swept them off a cliff on Nepal's Mount Gurja. Termed as one of the deadliest mountaineering accidents to hit the Himalayan nation in recent years, the bodies of the climbers -- five South Koreans and four Nepali guides were spotted near the wreckage of their camp by a rescue team on Saturday morning. The deadly storm hit the base on Friday and the climbers were swept off by strong winds , fell off a cliff and died.

Wangchu Sherpa, managing director of Trekking Camp Nepal, who organised the expedition, said they raised the alarm after they had not heard from the South Korean team for nearly 24 hours."After they (the climbers) were out of contact since yesterday we sent people from the village and a helicopter to search for them," he said.

Helicopter pilot Siddartha Gurung was among the first people to reach the site after the deadly storm and described a scene of total destruction.He said all the tents had been flattened, reduced to a tangled mess of tarpaulin and broken polls, and the climbers' bodies were scattered across a wide area, including some in a river bed some 500 metres (1,640 feet) away from the main camp. Everything is gone, all the tents are blown apart," Gurung told AFP.

Strong winds were hampering the search efforts and Gurung landed a helicopter just above the expedition team's camp and attempted to descend to the campsite with a group of local villagers, but icy and unstable conditions prevented them from retrieving any of the bodies. Rescue officials tried to send a second helicopter to the site Saturday afternoon but it was unable to fly due to strong winds, police spokesman Sailesh Thapa told AFP. Another attempt will be made Sunday to recover the bodies.

The team had been camped at the foot of the 7,193-metre (23,599-foot) Mount Gurja since early October, waiting for good weather so that they could attempt to reach the summit.South Korean climber Kim Chang-ho, who in 2013 became the fastest person to summit the world's 14 highest mountains without using supplemental oxygen, was leading the expedition.

Mount Gurja lies in Nepal's Annapurna region, next to avalanche-prone Dhaulagiri -- the world's seventh-highest mountain and is rarely climbed. So far only 30 people have managed to climb its peak compared to more than the 8,000 people who have climbed Everest - the world's highest mountain, Everest. Gurja was first summited in 1969 by a Japanese team but no one has stood on its summit for 22 years, according to the Himalayan Database. (AFP)

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