At Least One Israeli Confirmed Dead in Nepal Blizzard, Five Israelis Hospitalized

At least 20 killed, dozens missing after an avalanche and snowstorm hit the country's Annapurna mountain range.

Wikimedia Commons/Ben Tubby

Nepal army rescuers in helicopters spotted eight more bodies of trekkers along a mountain trail that was buried in avalanches and blizzards, raising the death toll to 20. 

At least 85 climbers are still unaccounted for after a blizzard dumped snow and triggered avalanches along a mountain trekking route popular with backpackers, the Trekking Agencies' Association of Nepal said on Thursday.

At least 14 foreign trekkers have been rescued so far, including 12 Israelis and two from Hong Kong who were being treated at the Military Hospital in Katmandu.

Seven of the hospitalized Israelis were released Thursday morning, according to Foreign Ministry officials, while five remain hospitalized with frostbite.

Israel's Foreign Ministry confirmed Wednesday that at least one Israeli was killed in an avalanche and snowstorm in Nepal's Annapurna mountain range. Earlier unconfirmed reports said two or three Israelis were killed.

Foreign Ministry officials said that diplomats from the Israeli embassy in India have been sent to Nepal to aid the smaller Kathmandu embassy in the crisis. They added that it is difficult to make a complete assessment due to the harsh conditions on the ground, and that they are investigating whether more Israeli hikers are missing. 

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said it is still following up reports and is waiting for information from the embassy in Kathmandu, which is in contact with Nepali authorities.

Baburam Bhandari, the chief officer of Mustang district, where the incident occurred, said earlier on Wednesday that 12 bodies were recovered so far, "out of which eight are Nepalis, one Vietnamese, two Israeli and one Polish."

Nearly 170 people were trekking toward the Thorang La pass along the well-travelled Annapurna route Tuesday when the snowstorm hit. Bhandari said 60 people rescued earlier had been admitted to nearby Jomsom Hospital. An unknown number are still missing. 

Nepali authorities said some people were still out of contact as bad weather had affected telecommunications, but the number was uncertain. Three yak herders also died in Naar village of Manang district.

Rabbi David Slavin, director of Chabad in Nepal, said that the storm occurred Tuesday afternoon Nepali time, and that currently uncertainty prevails in the region. “We know that approximately 200 Israelis are in the region, the majority of whom have been evacuated, however we still don’t have an exact number of missing people,” he said. The Chabad House in Nepal has set up a situation room, which has been flooded with phone call from concerned relatives. On Chabad Nepal’s Facebook page, relatives have been posting messages trying to ascertain the whereabouts of their loved ones.

Nadav Kalifa, deputy head of the Harel 669 rescue unit, said that few of the trekkers had made contact with Israel and that there was no accurate information available about either the dead or the injured.

He added that the Nepalese army had taken responsibility for the rescue and was providing assistance by both helicopter and units on the ground.

Dalia Weissbrod, an Israel trekker currently in Katmandu, said: "We were sitting in an Israeli restaurant in Katmandu named Maya when the rumors began to trickle in and we all got agitated and began guessing who was killed. The Nepalese seemed calm, except for those from the travel agency who were apparently feeling a little guilty.

"Some of the treks were already cancelled yesterday due to the weather and as far as I know those that set out were aware of the danger. We had two very stormy and rainy days. Right now everyone is shocked, frightened and under pressure."

Nepal has experienced bad weather for the last two days, partly caused by Cyclone Hudhud in neighboring India.

Last week, two Israelis died in a rafting accident on the Apurimac River in Peru.

The accident took place when a group of Israelis set out for a three-day rafting expedition on the Apurimac. According to Hilik Magnes, operations manager at Magnes Search and Rescue International, the group had two rafts – one for the baggage, which also carried a tour guide and two Israeli women, and the second with six Israelis and a guide.

In April, an avalanche sweeping down Mount Everest killed at least 16 Nepali guides, in what was the deadliest single incident on the world's highest peak.

More than 4,000 climbers have scaled the summit since 1953, when it was first conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Hundreds of others have died in the attempt.