Two European climbers killed in Himalayan avalanche

KATHMANDU - An avalanche in the Himalayas has swept away a mountaineering team attempting to summit the world's fourteenth-highest peak, killing two Europeans and injuring another climber, a Nepalese official said Saturday.

A team of elite mountaineers, including Switzerland's Ueli Steck, Italian Andrea Zambaldi and Germans Benedikt Boehm, Martin Maier and Sebastian Haag, were 100 metres shy of summiting the 8,027-metre (26,335-foot) Shisha Pangma peak in China when the avalanche hit.

"Two climbers, one German, the other Italian, were swept away in an avalanche on Shisha Pangma," said Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.

Sherpa told AFP that a company he runs was also leading a team up the mountain when they heard about the accident.

The Europeans' sponsor, Dynafit, confirmed the deaths in a statement, saying, "teammates Sebastian Haag and Andrea Zambaldi both perished in the accident".

The force of the avalanche, which struck Wednesday morning, threw Haag, Zambaldi and Maier across steep glaciers, dragging them down for around 600 metres, before landing them in an inaccessible section of the mountain.

Their teammates attempted a rescue, "but turned around due to the fact that there was no access to the avalanche zone", according to Dynafit.

"Sebastian and Andrea disappeared with the avalanche and their bodies could not be found." Maier, who miraculously survived the accident, made his way to Camp 3, located at an altitude of about 7,300 metres, and was receiving medical attention.

A former veterinary surgeon, 35-year-old Haag had accomplished several speed climbs and high-altitude ski attempts during his mountaineering career. Zambaldi, 32, worked as a marketing manager for Dynafit.

The "Dynafit Double 8" project involved plans to speed-climb and ski down Shisha Pangma and the 8,201-metre (26,906 foot) Cho Oyu peak, located on the Nepal-China border, via foot, ski, and bicycle in under a week.

At least two dozen climbers have died while attempting to summit Shisha Pangma, including US mountaineering legend, Alex Lowe, who was killed in a massive snow and ice avalanche in October 1999.

Sixteen Nepalese guides were killed last April in an ice avalanche on the world's highest mountain, Mount Everest, in the worst disaster to strike the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) peak.