Tahoe skier among mountaineers who survived avalanche
September 24, 2012
KATMANDU, Nepal – Mountaineers who survived a massive pre-dawn avalanche high on the world’s eighth-tallest peak say they waited an hour for the sun to come up and then saw pieces of tents and bodies of victims strewn around them on the snow.
Italian climber Silvio Mondinelli said he and a fellow mountaineer were asleep when they heard a violent sound and felt their tent start to slide.
“It was only a few seconds and we did not know what happened, but we had slid more than 200 meters (650 feet),” Mondinelli told The Associated Press on Monday. “All we wanted was for it to stop.”
Another survivor, Lake Tahoe-area skier Glen Plake, said he was reading his Bible when the avalanche hit his tent and swept it several hundred feet down the mountain. He ended up “still in my sleeping bag, still inside the tent, still with my headlamp on,” Plake told Epic TV. But another mountaineer in his tent was gone.
“We all went to sleep with avalanche transceivers on, so I punched my way out of the tent and started searching (for other climbers). I searched for 10 minutes before I realized I was barefoot in the snow,” Plake added.
The avalanche, which Plake said was at least 600 meters wide, hit at about 4 a.m. Sunday while more than two dozen climbers were sleeping in tents at Camp 3 on Mount Manaslu in northern Nepal.
At least nine climbers were killed and six are believed still missing. Ten climbers survived, but many of them were injured and were flown to hospitals by rescue helicopters.
Helicopters flew over the slopes on Monday to search for the missing mountaineers as climbers and guides searched the mountainsides on foot. Rescuers brought down eight bodies – four French, one each from Germany, Italy and Spain and a Nepali guide – and were trying to retrieve the ninth from the 7,000-meter (22,960-foot) area where the avalanche struck, police Chief Basanta Bahadur Kuwar said.
Three French climbers and two Germans were transported to hospitals in Katmandu on Sunday. Two Italians were flown there on Monday – Mondinelli, who has climbed the world’s 14 highest peaks, and fellow mountaineer Christian Gobbi.
Mondinelli said a third Italian climber and their Sherpa guide, who were both sleeping in another tent, were buried by the avalanche and died.
Gobbi said they could not see at first when they looked out of their torn tent because it was pitch dark and they had no light.
“We found someone’s boots and put them on,” he said.
When the sun rose an hour later, they saw parts of tents scattered across the snow, along with people who had been killed or injured.
They said they were able to assist the injured with the help of Sherpa guides who came up from lower mountain camps. Those who could walk made their way down to the base camp while those who were injured were picked up by helicopters.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this report.