KATHMANDU - Bad weather suspended searches Sunday on Mount Everest for three Nepalese sherpa guides still missing after an avalanche killed 13 of their colleagues in the deadliest accident on the world's highest peak.
The guides were among a large party that left Everest base camp on Friday morning carrying tents, food and ropes to prepare routes for international clients ahead of the main climbing season in Nepal.
Rescuers retrieved 12 bodies and plucked at least seven men to safety from the snow-blanketed slopes on Friday, with a 13th body recovered on Saturday.
The avalanche smashed into the sherpas at an altitude of about 5,800 metres (19,000 feet) in an area nicknamed the "popcorn field" due to ice boulders on the route leading into the treacherous Khumbu Icefall.
"We will resume search and rescue operations when the weather clears," said tourism ministry official Dipendra Paudel.
"It's just too cloudy and windy at the moment, we don't want to risk more lives," Paudel told AFP.
Dozens of guides were on the move when a huge block of ice broke off from a hanging glacier, before splitting into smaller chunks and barrelling down into the icefall, one of the most dangerous areas on the route to ascend Everest.
The disaster underscores the huge risks borne by local guides who ascend the icy slopes, often in pitch-dark and usually weighed down by tenting equipment, ropes and food supplies for their clients.
News of the accident sent shockwaves among the mountaineers, leaving some climbers and sherpas reconsidering whether to continue with their expeditions.
More than 300 people, most of them local guides, have died on Everest since the first summit by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
The previous worst accident on the 8,848-metre peak occurred in 1996 when eight people were killed during a storm while attempting to summit the mountain.
Every summer, hundreds of climbers from around the world attempt to scale peaks in the Himalayas when weather conditions are ideal.
The government has issued permits to 734 people, including 400 guides, to climb Everest this season.