SEOUL (Reuters) – The bodies of five South Korean mountaineers who lost their lives climbing the Himalayas were returned to their home country on Wednesday, with officials attributing the disaster to a “sudden gust of wind.”
The team of nine, including four Nepalese, led by climber Kim Chang-ho, died in Nepal’s worst climbing disaster in two years when the Himalayan peak they were scaling was hit by a storm last week.
Kim had set the record in 2013 for being the fastest to reach the summits of the world’s 14 highest mountains over 8,000 metres (26,250 feet) without using supplemental oxygen.
The team was trying to blaze a new route on the south face of Mount Gurja, Yonhap news agency said, before being found near their base camp about 3,500 metres (11,500 feet) above sea level on the 7,193 metre-high (23,600-foot) peak on Saturday.
The disaster appeared to be caused by a “sudden gust of wind,” Union of Asian Alpine Associations Chairman Lee In-jung said in an interview.
“I believe it might be the first time in the history of climbing the Himalayas that an accident was caused this way,” he said. “The incident might deter people from climbing the Himalayas,” Lee added, breaking into tears when talking about the dead.
Lee said that most of the belongings of the climbers, including footage from a documentary filmmaker on the team, were yet to be recovered.
The climbers’ remains will be moved to different funeral sites according to their families’ wishes, while a joint funeral ceremony will be held at Kim’s alma mater, the University of Seoul.
(Reporting by Daeun Yi; Writing by Joyce Lee; Editing by Peter Cooney)