Nepal recovers bodies of French climbers lost in Himalayas

Map of Nepal locating Kangtega.

The bodies of three French climbers who disappeared in a remote corner of the Himalayas were recovered on Monday close to where they went missing last month, police in Nepal said.

The group were attempting to scale Mingbo Eiger, a 6,000-metre (19,700-feet) peak near Mount Everest, and were last heard from via satellite phone at their camp on 26 October.

Bad weather hampered efforts to find the men and the rescue team said last week that they could have been buried under a depth of snow the size of a five-floor building.

Rishi Raj Dhakal, an inspector at the Solukhumbu district police office, told AFP the bodies were transported by helicopter to the small town of Lukla, which sits close to the route up to Everest.

"The bodies will now be sent to Kathmandu for post-mortem," he added. Ang Norbu Sherpa, a mountain guide who led the rescue efforts for the trio, said they had been found near the north face of Mingmo Eiger.

Sherpa was not able to provide separate confirmation that the bodies belonged to the missing climbers.

The three young mountaineers -- Thomas Arfi, Louis Pachoud and Gabriel Miloche -- were part of an eight-strong expedition. They had split into two groups to tackle different summits.

The men appeared to have abandoned their summit attempt and turned back when an avalanche hit.

Search operations were suspended last week, after the French Federation of Alpine and Mountain Clubs (FFCAM) conceded that the chances of finding the men were "practically zero".

The FFCAM had also rejected claims in local media that the expedition did not have proper climbing permits.

Re-opened to tourists 

Climbers have started returning to Nepal after the coronavirus pandemic forced a complete shutdown of its mountaineering industry last year and devastated the tourism-dependent economy.

The Himalayan nation of 30 million re-opened to tourists in September after scrapping quarantine requirements for vaccinated foreigners.

Everest and other Himalayan mountaintops usually attract climbers from all over the world each spring, when a window of good weather opens up between late April and the end of May.

The world's highest peak saw a record mountaineering season the year before the pandemic began, with a record 885 people summiting Everest in the 2019 spring window.

But experts say the September-November season is more dangerous due to high winds and lower temperatures, and the world's highest mountains see only a handful of people attempt to climb them at that time.