Helicopter operation to retrieve bodies of Himalaya climbers called off

An operation to recover five bodies spotted in the Himalayas has been called off after a rescue helicopter was unable to reach the area.

Officials are now reconsidering plans to retrieve the bodies, which were spotted during the hunt for eight climbers missing in the area.

The group – thought to be four Britons, two Americans, one Australian and an Indian liaison officer – disappeared on May 26 in the Nanda Devi region of the Himalayas after an avalanche.

Led by British mountain guide Martin Moran, the team were attempting to reach the top of an unclimbed peak in a remote area.

Four other British members of the expedition have been rescued.

Officials had devised a plan to use helicopters and a ground team to retrieve the bodies, spotted at an altitude of 16,404ft (5,000m), and to search for the three other mountaineers.

However, Indo-Tibetan Border Police, who are responsible for rescues in the range where the peaks are located, called off the operation on Wednesday because of the high elevation, which a helicopter was unable to reach after three attempts, spokesman Vivek Pandey said.

He said the rescue team returned to the town of Pithoragarh on Wednesday afternoon to reconsider its strategy.

Officials have said they presume all eight missing climbers are dead.

Maninder Kohli, a mountaineer who runs a trekking company from New Delhi that has taken groups to Nanda Devi East base camp, said the snow level in the Indian Himalayas this year has been abnormally high.

He said: “Apparently the walk up to the base camp alone was a tedious task because of the snow accumulation.”

The bodies, spotted on Monday, are thought to be members of the missing expedition, district magistrate Dr Vijay Kumar Jogdande said previously.

Mr Moran has been a mountain guide since 1985 and set up his company – Moran Mountain, based in Strathcarron in the Scottish Highlands – with his wife Joy, while their grown-up children, Hazel and Alex, also work for the business.

In an earlier statement, the Moran family said: “We are deeply saddened by the tragic events unfolding in the Nanda Devi region of the Indian Himalayas.”

Academic Richard Payne, from the University of York, is believed to be among the missing climbers.

The rescued group, who had stayed back at the second base camp, were brought down on Sunday and given first aid at a hospital in the town of Pithoragarh before later being released.