Guide saw wall of snow carry away Korean trekking team in Nepal


Pokhara (Nepal) (AFP)

Rescuers intensified an increasingly desperate hunt Monday for four South Korean trekkers and three Nepalis swept away by an avalanche in the Himalayas as a guide told how he saw people carried off by the snow.

Krishna Hari Subedi was helping a Chinese trekker on the trail near the Annapurna base camp when the wall of snow hit on Friday.

"We were descending when an avalanche came rumbling down. Three people were swept down by it in front of my eyes," Subedi told AFP.

"I ducked down and my guest followed, we were safe. If we had moved forward, there was a cliff edge, we would have been swept down."

Subedi said he saw three people carried away but did not know how many others had been hit in the line of trekkers on the route.

"When we began heading down again, we heard a cry for help," he added.

"One of them survived and was walking up. It was nearly 300 metres down. When he saw us, he fainted... he was taken to a hospital."

The fate of the other two remains uncertain.

- Families' anxious wait -

Rescue crews on helicopters were scanning the white landscape with electronic detectors at an altitude of around 3,230 metres (10,600 feet) where the avalanche struck.

"We have marked starting and ending areas where our machine showed signals to aid the search operation," rescue worker Ang Tashi Sherpa said. Ananda Thapa, a helicopter pilot, said that signals today were weaker than yesterday as avalanches continued in the area, piling more snow.

A nine-member army team has joined the operation while the South Korean embassy also sent officials to assist.

Parts of the snow mass could thaw in two weeks if it is sunny but it would take up to a month for most of it to melt, Kaski district police chief Dan Bahadur Karki said at a press conference Monday evening.

"We tried to land helicopters in the nearby area but it has not been possible so far. We are also planning to mobilise search team on foot... We are exploring all possible ways," Karki said.

Experts say there is a very low chance of survival for those buried in an avalanche for more than two hours.

"It is difficult to do this work. But I expect the government... will make efforts to rescue the four Korean tourists and three Nepalis as soon as possible," South Korea's ambassador to Nepal Park Young-sik told reporters.

Relatives of the missing Koreans who arrived in Kathmandu on Saturday have also visited the avalanche area.

Six of the missing were part of the same expedition, while one Nepali porter was escorting a different group.

The four foreigners -- two men and two women -- were part of an 11-member South Korean team. Others have safely descended.

Education officials in Seoul said they were part of a team of volunteer teachers working with children in Nepal.

Helicopters were sent out on Saturday to rescue about 200 people stranded around Annapurna and other nearby trekking routes after the avalanche.

Annapurna is an avalanche-prone and technically difficult mountain range with a higher death rate than Everest, the world's highest peak.

Thousands of trekkers visit the route every year for its stunning views of the Himalayas.

A snowstorm killed about 40 people on the circuit in 2014, in one of the biggest trekking tragedies to hit Nepal.