Climbers missing on Nanda Devi East, Garhwal Himalaya

Posted by Sarah Stirling on 04/06/2019
Nanda Devi. Photo: Shutterstock / Dchauy

Eight climbers, including the British Mountain Guide, Martin Moran, are missing in the Himalayas. They had been attempting to climb Nanda Devi East, the second highest peak in India after Kangchenjunga.

Amongst the missing is British Mountain Guide, Martin Moran, an extremely experienced and respected Guide who has climbed extensively in the Himalayas and runs a family business, Moran Mountain, with his wife Joy, daughter, Hazel, and son, Alex. 

What happened?

The team arrived at Nanda Devi East base camp on 18 May, after six days trekking in. One team member became sick and returned to the USA. The others rested, refuelled and checked in. Moran Mountain posted on Facebook:

"The first ascent of this beautiful peak was in 1939 by a team of Polish climbers, their legend lives on here at the heart of the Himalayas' most tranquil and quiet sanctuary, a unique and beautiful isolation away from the crowds."

On 21 May, the team reached their second base camp at 4,870m. Here, they split into two: British Mountain Guide, Mark Thomas, led one group of four to prepare the route up Nanda Devi East with fixed ropes. The other group of eight climbers, led by Martin Moran and including an Indian Liason Officer, set off for an acclimatisation climb: they planned to make the first ascent of a 6,477m peak.

On 25 May, Martin reported that the team had set up a camp at almost 5,400m, that all was well, the weather was good and they were planning to attempt the summit early the following morning.

In a statement, The British Association of Mountain Guides (BMG) commented:

"The BMG has received conflicting reports. What follows is the BMG’s current understanding of events.

When Martin Moran’s group failed to return on the expected date, the base camp support staff alerted Mark Thomas by radio. Mark immediately descended from Nanda Devi East with the three climbers and returned to base camp.

Mark then went on to the ‘Peak 6,447m’ to try to locate Martin and his team of climbers. He did not locate the climbers but did find that there had been a very large avalanche on the route that the missing climbers were expected to have taken. At this point he instructed the field support staff to alert rescue services.

During the early morning of Friday 31 May the alarm was raised. The Indian Mountaineering Foundation contacted relevant authorities and a team of rescuers was dispatched, on foot, to Nanda Devi East base camp. At this juncture the weather conditions were too harsh to fly helicopters into the mountains. This poor weather persisted throughout Saturday 1 June and again the helicopter was unable to fly."

The Moran family made an official statement and request for privacy on Facebook:

On Sunday 2 June, Mark Thomas was picked up from base camp and participated in a recce of the mountain from the air. They could see no sign of the missing climbers, but did see the huge scale of the avalanche. The helicopter then collected the other three surviving team members from base camp and flew them off the mountain.

Five bodies spotted on the mountain:

On Monday 3 June, Reuters reported that an air force helicopter had spotted five bodies on a flight over the area where the climbers went missing. A search mission is now being organised, working on the assumption that all eight climbers had been killed. 

Vijay Kumar Jogdande, the top government official in the nearby Pithoragarh district, told Reuters that the high altitude and possibility of a second avalanche made accessing the site difficult. It had not been decided whether a team would go in by air or on foot, he said.

Our thoughts are with the families of those missing.



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