Nepal avalanche hit sleeping climbers

A rescuer speaks to a survivor Sunday in the debris field of an avalanche on Mount Manaslu. Rescue helicopters flew over the high slopes of the northern Nepal peak Monday to search for climbers lost in the avalanche.

KATMANDU, NEPAL — Mountaineers who survived a pre-dawn avalanche high on the world’s eighth-tallest peak said they waited an hour for the sun to come up and then saw pieces of tents and bodies of victims strewn around them on the snow.

Italian climber Silvio Mondinelli said he and a fellow mountaineer were asleep when they heard a violent sound and felt their tent start to slide.

“It was only a few seconds and we did not know what happened, but we had slid more than 200 meters (650 feet),” Mondinelli said Monday. “All we wanted was for it to stop.”

The avalanche hit at about 4 a.m. Sunday while more than 24 climbers were sleeping in tents on the 26,760-foot-high Mount Manaslu.

At least nine climbers were killed and six are believed still missing. Ten survived, but many were injured and were flown to hospitals by rescue helicopters.

Helicopters flew over the slopes on Monday to search for the missing mountaineers as climbers and guides searched the mountainsides on foot. Rescuers brought down eight bodies — four French, one each from Germany, Italy and Spain and a Nepali guide — and were trying to retrieve the ninth from the 22,960-foot area where the avalanche struck, Police Chief Basanta Bahadur Kuwar said.

Three French climbers and two Germans were taken to hospitals in Katmandu on Sunday. Two Italians were flown there on Monday — Mondinelli, who has climbed the world’s 14 highest peaks, and fellow mountaineer Christian Gobbi.

Mondinelli said a third Italian climber and their Sherpa guide, who were both sleeping in another tent, were buried by the avalanche and died.

Sunday’s avalanche came at the start of Nepal’s autumn climbing season, when the end of the monsoon rains makes weather in the high Himalayas unpredictable.