India rescuers search for missing climbers on Himalayan peak

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LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Rescuers on Sunday searched for eight mostly foreign mountaineers who went missing while attempting to scale a peak near India's second-highest mountain, an official said.

The team, led by British climber Martin Moran, began its ascent May 13 of the previously unclimbed and unnamed peak on Nanda Devi East at 6,477 meters (21,250 feet), according to Moran Mountain, Moran's Scotland-based company.The team includes four Britons, two Americans, an Australian and an Indian liaison officer.

Vijay Kumar Jogdande, a civil administrator in northern India's Uttarakhand state, said four other members of the expedition team who had stayed back at the second base camp were brought down Sunday. The four-member team, all British nationals, was led by 44-year old Mark Thomas. The other three members were Zachary Quain, 32, Kate Armstone, 39 and Ian Wade, 45.

Amit Chowdhary, spokesman for the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, said the missing climbers' location was known up to May 26. He said they had been in radio contact with the other four expedition team members.

Chowdhary said when the Thomas-led team was no longer receiving radio updates from the other expedition team, Thomas went to look for the missing climbers the next day.

"There was a trail of the climbers there and the trail ended in an avalanche. There was evidence of a very large avalanche," Chowdhary cited Thomas as having said.

Chowdhary said he spoke with Thomas on Sunday after he and his three associates were brought down from the base camp.

He said that as Thomas accompanied rescuers in the chopper, they were able to spot the trail, but not the missing climbers. "They could see from the helicopter footmarks of the team, but nothing else," he said.

Jogdande, the civil administrator said the rescue operation, launched on Saturday, was called off Sunday due to bad weather. He said the search would resume on Monday, using tips provided by the four team members brought down from the base camp.

The mountaineers were supposed to return to the base camp on Friday, Jogdande said. "But when they failed to return, an alert was sounded and the rescue operation was launched," he said.

Jogdande said trekking has been called off in the region due to inclement weather and an avalanche. "Choppers are carrying out sorties to bring back people from the base camp," he said from Pithoragarh, a town 400 kilometers (250 miles) southwest of Lucknow city.

The route to the Nanda Devi peak begins from the Munsiyari area, about 130 kilometers (80 miles) from Pithoragarh. Mountaineers traverse on foot about 90 kilometers (55 miles) from Munsiyari to the Nanda Devi base camp.

Moran "is an accomplished mountaineer and had climbed Nanda Devi peak several times," Jogdande said.

Moran's company wrote on its Facebook page on Sunday that it was working with authorities and the British Association of Mountain Guides to "gather information regarding the Nanda Devi East expedition team."

"Out of respect for those involved and their families, we will be making no further comments at this time," reads the post.

In yet another Facebook post on Sunday evening, the company wrote that they're deeply saddened by the tragic events unfolding in the Nanda Devi region of the Indian Himalaya.

"As a family, we share the same emotions that all next of kin are experiencing in not knowing the whereabouts or wellbeing of those closest to us," it said. "We are pressing for the search area to be widened and continued until such time as firm evidence is found to ascertain the wellbeing or otherwise of all those in the climbing group."

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