Nepal earthquake triggers Mt Everest avalanche, 18 killed
Even for the hardiest, bravest of climbers, it was a moment of sheer terror.
At 11.45am on Saturday, just as mountaineers and their porters were settling down for lunch beneath the shadow of Mt Everest, the ground shook beneath their feet.
An earthquake, bigger than any in the previous 80 years, had struck Nepal, its epicentre 160km away. What happened next would be truly devastating for the climbers gathered at base camp on Everest's south side.
For many, it was supposed to have been a trip of a lifetime. It was about to turn into a disaster.
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The earthquake triggered an avalanche which swept down into base camp, showering those resting there before the climb in rock, ice and snow.
Other avalanches followed, creating further mayhem and panic. The terror is nearly unimaginable. Tons of rock and ice hurtling down the mountain sides from at least two directions, thundering towards Everest's busy and sprawling base camp.
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The result would be at least 18 people killed in Everest's base camp alone.
Everest base camp huge earthquaqe then huge avalanche from pumori.Running for life from my tent. Unhurt. Many many people up the mountain.— Alex Gavan (@AlexGAVAN) April 25, 2015
Huge disaster.Helped searched and rescued victims through huge debris area.Many dead.Much more badly injured.More to die if not heli asap.— Alex Gavan (@AlexGAVAN) April 25, 2015
A Google executive was one of those to perish on the mountain. Dan Fredinburg was head of privacy at Google[x], dedicated to making technical innovations at the company.
Fredinburg was called an experienced climber by technology blog Re/Code. He had been in Nepal along with three other Google employees climbing Mt Everest. The other three people were safe.
READ MORE: Google executive dies on Mt Everest
Nepal's Tourism Ministry could only confirm 10 deaths, but army spokesman Gyanendra Shrestha said that the death toll could rise, and that the avalanche had buried part of the base camp. He said two tents at the camp had been filled with the injured.
Ministry officials estimated that at least 1000 climbers, including about 400 foreigners, had been at base camp or on Everest when the earthquake struck.
Two Kiwi climbing groups in the area have been confirmed as being safe after the earthquake. Wanaka-based expedition company Adventure Consultants had a Mt Everest Climbing team in Nepal this week as well as a team climbing Mera Peak in the Himalayas.
It said on Facebook that both groups were safe and well, with the Everest climbing team waiting at Camp One.
Christchurch high school students trekking in Nepal were also safe. The St Margaret's College students were representing school expedition group World Challenge and were in two groups.
One group was trekking near the city of Pokhara, about 200km west of Kathmandu, and was out in the open on safe ground.
The second group had been helping build a school about 40km from Kathmandu and was under temporary shelters and away from buildings.
In a statement on its website, St Margaret's College said both groups had food and water and were waiting for evacuation details from World Challenge.
Others already on the mountain are likely to have perished. Those camped at an altitude of 20,000 feet, above the avalanche, are now stranded, their route back to ground seemingly cut off.
One climber, resting in his tent at base camp, thought a fellow member of his expedition, was simply playing a prank on him as the shaking began.
"Lying in my tent it seemed like someone was shaking my tent, a joke I thought," said Eric Arnold, an experienced Dutch mountaineer, posting on his blog, "Not much later, the shaking of the tent was taken over by the shaking of the ground. Harder and harder. I realise earthquake
"When I opened my tent zipper I saw three sides of gigantic avalanches coming down behind me. One of the avalanches was gigantic. Not much later I realised it was going to hit.
"I ran the 20 feet to the tent and the mid avalanche cloud touched me. I totally lost direction. Then I stormed into the tent. My ears were filled to the brim with snow. In five seconds, I looked like the abominable snowman."
Alex Gavan, a Romanian mountaineer, who had been preparing to climb up nearby Lhotse, the world's fourth highest mountain, ran for his life. In a dramatic, desperate message on Twitter, he said: "Everest base camp huge earthquake then huge avalanche. Running for life from my tent. Unhurt. Many many people up the mountain."
Seven hours later Gavan tweeted a new, desperate plea for help. "Huge disaster.," he wrote, "Helped search and rescued victims through huge debris area. Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not help asap."
Survivors scrambled to rescue friends and fellow climber. Arnold, who describes himself as an adventurer, wrote on his blog of his extraordinary efforts to save a sherpa, who he had found buried in the snow.
He had thought the man was dead but realised he was breathing, the sherpa's leg broken and useless.
He pulled the injured man out, and carried him to safety.
"We give him a heavy painkiller and help him down," wrote Arnold, "Three times there were aftershocks and avalanches. It was like a freight train.
"There are reportedly, higher up the mountain, climbers still where we can not reach.
"We descend to the base camp to help the people there. What we see is horrible. Everywhere there are tents, personal belongings and climbing gear.
"Basecamp is now a refugee camp."
With night falling in, conditions were becoming desperate. "What a hell," wrote Mr Arnold, "I have no idea how to get out of here. For now I want to help in the coming days. I think there are many hidden [bodies] under the snow."
Meanwhile up the now, a British climber offered a glimpse to the terrible events that had just happened.
Dan Mazur, an experienced climber from Bristol, was leading an expedition up Everest when the avalanche struck. His team were already at Camp One at an altitude of 19,900 feet. The camp is strategically positioned above base camp, reached by traversing the Khumbu Icefall. The avalanche had, it seemed, blocked the icefall and any hope of a route down. Those not killed were now stranded high up.
Mazur was one of those. "Massive earthquake just hit Everest," he tweeted. "Basecamp has been severely damaged. Our team is caught in camp 1. Please pray for everyone."
An hour later he added: "Aftershock! #Everest team is in camp 1, hanging on. #Icefall route destroyed."
Last night, Mazur and other climbers at camp one and above remained stranded on the mountain, their only hope the chance of helicopters reaching them before supplies run out.
Temperatures were plummeting, typically, going as low as minus minus 20C at that altitude. Base camp at 17,700 feet is only a little less freezing.
A makeshift infirmary had been set up at base camp. Matt Moniz, an American climber based in Colorado, relayed his fears, again through social media.
At around 11pm local time on Saturday he wrote: "Like Nepal, situation at EBC [Everest Base Camp] is critical. Several head injuries need evac ASAP. Praying world help 4 Nepal is enroute."
Earlier, Moniz had tweeted: "All able teams assisting in rescue. Many injuries and fatalities. Pray."
Medics already at base camp for the climbing season were working hard to "save lives", doctor and mountaineer Nima Namgyal Sherpa said on his Facebook page on Saturday.
"Many camps have been destroyed by the shake and wind from the avalanche. All the doctors here are doing our best to treat and save lives," said Namgyal.
This was just about peak season for trekking and climbing in Nepal. It is a time when Everest can be conquered before the clouds gather making the route impassable.
Alex Staniforth, a teenager from Cheshire, was on his way to camp one when the avalanche hit. A year ago, his attempt to reach the summit had been scrapped after an avalanche that year killed 16.
This time he would escape by sheer fortune although how is not clear. But for his friends and family, they won't care how he made it down, just that he did so.
"Alex has just called support team," they tweeted yesterday, "He was hit by an avalanche whilst heading up to camp 1. He is Ok, shaken and safe back at base camp."
It was a wonderful bit of news on the gloomiest, most terrifying of days.
- The Telegraph, London