UPDATE 2-Lucky escape of Italian climbing duo in Nepal avalanche

Mon Sep 24, 2012 9:19pm IST

(Recasts, adds details, quotes, background throughout)

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU, Sept 24 (Reuters) - Italian climbers Christian Gobbi and Silvio Mondinelli on Monday told of their lucky survival after being caught in an avalanche that killed at least 11 people on a Himalayan peak in Nepal in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Gobbi and Mondinelli were sleeping in their tent when they heard a strange sound followed by strong gusts of wind. A few seconds later snow flooded their tent and sent it tumbling down a mountain slope.

Emerging from their tent, all they could see were torn pieces of tents and stray boots after a crushing wall of snow destroyed their camp. Dozens of climbers had been sheltering just below the peak of the 8,163 metre (26,781 feet) Mount Manaslu.

"We went down with the tent and stopped about 250 metres (820 feet) below," Gobbi, 42, told Reuters after being rescued by helicopter and flown to the Nepali capital, Kathmandu, on Monday. "We were very lucky that nothing happened to us, but we had lost our boots, gloves and headlight.

"After about an hour we discovered one of our Italian team members and a very strong sherpa guide had died in the snow," Gobbi said, sitting on a couch in a Kathmandu hotel.

Mondinelli, 54, celebrated for his rare feat of climbing all 14 of the world's peaks above 8,000 metres, was on his third ascent of Manaslu, which straddles Nepal's border with Tibet.

"We all screamed and looked for survivors," he said.

Gobbi added: "We found somebody's boots, put them on and came down."

Nepali rescue helicopters halted their search on Monday for three foreign climbers who were still missing after the avalanche hit the camp.

The three missing climbers are believed to be two French nationals and a Canadian, deputy superintendent of police Basanta Bahadur Kunwar said.

Seven French climbers were among the 11 victims of the avalanche that struck their camp on the world's eighth-highest mountain. Two German climbers and one each from Spain and Nepal also died.

"Everything looked destroyed at the site," said Nima Nuru Sherpa, a tour operator who organised the expedition for the French climbers and helped to fly their bodies back to Kathmandu on Monday.

"We couldn't see any tents or any belongings of the climbers," he told Reuters on his return.

Five people who were rescued were flown back from the mountain's base camp to Kathmandu on Monday. Eight more climbers, who were unhurt, stayed behind and were contemplating continuing their climbs, Kunwar said.

Mount Manaslu, which towers alongside Mount Annapurna in northwest Nepal, has been climbed by about 300 people since it was first scaled by a Japanese team in 1956. With Sunday's avalanche, the mountain has claimed more than 60 lives.

Sunday's avalanche was the deadliest such accident in the country in nearly two decades. In 1995 at least 42 people were killed in heavy snowfall and avalanches in the Mount Everest region, the last major disaster. (Editing by David Goodman)

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