ISLAMABAD (AFP) — At least nine climbers were killed and three others are missing after an ice avalanche near the summit of K2, the world's second-highest peak after Mount Everest, Pakistani tour operators said Sunday.
Three South Koreans, two Nepalis, a Dutch, a Pakistani a Norwegian and a Serb died on the 28,251-foot (8,611-metre) peak in remote northern Pakistan, considered by most climbers to be more difficult to scale than Everest.
"I can confirm nine dead and three missing," Nazir Sabir, a celebrated Pakistani mountaineer who scaled K2 in 1981 and whose tour company organised one of the doomed expeditions, told AFP.
"It is the worst tragedy on K2 since 1986, when 12 climbers were killed due to exposure," said Sabir, who confirmed the nationalities of those killed. He said the missing were from France, Pakistan and Austria.
Mohammad Akram, vice president of a company that organised another of the expeditions, told AFP the group had been hit by falling ice as they made their descent on Friday.
An air search and rescue team had been called in to try to find the missing climbers, he said.
The pyramid-shaped K2, which sits on the border between Pakistan and China, is considered by mountaineers to be by far the hardest of the 14 summits over 8,000 metres to scale.
Weather patterns in the high-altitude Karakorum range where the mountain is located are extremely volatile, and K2's steep slopes demand a high level of technical knowhow.
Spanish media, quoting a blog linked to one of the summit expeditions, and a Swedish climber involved in the rescue effort put the death toll at 11.
"I have carried down both living and dead people from the mountain," the climber, Fredrik Straeng, told the Swedish news agency TT, explaining how he feared for his life when a Pakistani fell on top of him.
"I was terrified that he would pull us all off the cliff and screamed to him to use his ice axe, but he lost his grip and plummeted off a 300-metre cliff," Straeng told TT.
He said a large number of climbers decided to leave their camp at just over 7,000 metres to try to reach the summit after the skies cleared following a long period of poor weather.
"We had a feeling this would not turn out well and decided to turn around. The accident could have been prevented. These mountains lure out way too inexperienced and naive people," he said.
Missing Irishman Gerard McDonnell, 37, an Alaska-based oil worker who has climbed Everest, was given up for dead by an experienced mountaineering friend.
"At present it is believed that anyone who is classified as position unknown will not be coming back," Pat Falvey told AFP.
Norwegian media reported that Rolf Bae, 33, died in the disaster, while his wife was reportedly trying to make her way down with two other Norwegians.
Dutch public broadcaster NOS reported that two Dutch climbers had safely returned to base camp.
Government officials said two other climbers had died last month on K2 after falling into a crevasse.
K2 is known to locals as "Chogori" or King of Mountains.
Italian climbers Achille Compagnoni and Lino Lacedelli first scaled the mountain on July 31, 1954. Between that first ascent and 2007, there were 284 successful ascents and 66 fatalities.
In the same period, Everest was summited 3,681 times, with 210 deaths.
Over the years, K2 has claimed the lives of some of the world's most accomplished mountaineers, including Britain's Nicholas Estcourt, Alan Rouse, Julie Tullis and Alison Hargreaves, American Rob Slater and France's Liliane and Maurice Barrard.
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