Indian officials have abandoned their initial plan to retrieve bodies believed to be members of a team of international climbers that went missing on a notoriously dangerous Himalayan mountain. All eight of the climbers who disappeared May 26 on Nanda Devi East are presumed dead, and the five bodies photographed by air Monday are thought to be from the missing expedition. Officials had devised a plan to use helicopters and a ground team to retrieve the bodies, spotted at 16,404 feet, and to search for the three other mountaineers. Indo-Tibetan Border Police, who are responsible for rescues in the range where the peaks are located, called off the operation because of the high elevation, which a helicopter was unable to reach after three attempts, rep Vivek Pandey said.
Pandey said the rescue team returned to the town of Pithoragarh on Wednesday afternoon to reconsider its strategy. "It is not feasible to hover in the air and land near the site of the avalanche where bodies can be seen," according to a status report seen by the AP. The report said the challenges include the "bowl-like" geography of the terrain, wind turbulence, and the risk of further avalanches. It recommended an expedition on foot, though it would take the rescuers a week to acclimate first. The mountaineers, led by veteran British climber Martin Moran, had set out to reach the top of an unclimbed, unnamed 21,250-foot ridge, but lost contact with their base camp after an avalanche. Nanda Devi East is a twin peak of Nanda Devi, India's second-highest mountain, and the two are connected by a razor-sharp 1.2-mile ridge. (The climbers may not have had permission to climb it.)