The missing climbers include four Britons, two Americans, an Australian and their Indian liaison officer
Eight climbers who set out on a 12-person expedition through Nanda Devi, India’s second-highest mountain range, late last month are feared dead after an avalanche swept through the area, according to disaster officials.
On Monday, more than a week after departing “with the ambition of summiting a virgin peak” on 25,643-foot mountain, helicopters spotted at least five bodies that were partially buried in the snow on the peak, The New York Times reports.
The missing climbers include four Britons, an Australian, an Indian liaison officer, and two Americans, who have since been identified as Dr. Anthony Sudekum, 63, of Missouri and Ronald Beimel, 34, of Los Angeles.
In a statement to PEOPLE, Sudekum’s children said they were maintaining hope that their father, who works as an orthopedic hand surgery specialist, may still be alive despite the “worrisome information surrounding the incident.”
“While we are deeply saddened by the events in the Nanda Devi region, our hope and optimism in this dark moment is buoyed by the knowledge that our dad was a highly experienced climber and outdoorsman and an accomplished medical doctor and hand surgeon well trained in emergency medical care,” his children said.
“It is with knowledge that, if he and his team members were swept by an avalanche, survivors may be in an unexpected location below the fan of the avalanche, which could be very difficult to search properly under current conditions,” they noted, adding that there have been cases where avalanche survivors presumed dead turned up alive days later.
Sudekum’s children also mentioned how their father is “a fantastic, passionate, capable individual who was doing what he loved” and expressed their gratitude to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation and search teams who have been looking for the missing climbers.
“Again, our hearts go out to all the loved ones going through the same experience,” they finished. “Along with the other families, we are urging the search efforts to continue and broaden until there is definitive evidence of the wellbeing of all the climbers.”
As for Beimel, his fiancée declined to comment when reached by PEOPLE.
The group of 12, including two British Mountain Guides, an Indian Liaison Officer, and support staff, took off for their expedition and reached their base camp on May 18, with it fully set up by the 21st, according to a website statement from the British Association of Mountain Guides.
It was at that point that they decided to break up into two teams — one group of four led by Mark Thomas who would travel down the Nanda Devi East route, while the second group, led by Martin Moran and the liaison officer headed for an “unnamed and unclimbed peak, referred to as Peak 6447m.”
When Moran’s group failed to return to the base camp on the expected date, Thomas’ group was alerted and returned. Thomas then reportedly set off to find Moran and his group.
Though he was unable to find the climbers, Thomas noticed there had been an avalanche on their expected path and called for rescue services on Friday, May 31, according to BAMG.
That morning, a team of rescuers headed towards the Nanda Devi East base camp, while conditions remained “too harsh” for a helicopter to fly through the mountains until Sunday, June 2, the group wrote on their website.
When the helicopter was finally able to fly, BAMG said “no signs of the missing climbers were observed nor any evidence of equipment nor tents,” but that “the scale of the avalanche became much more apparent.”
In the wake of the news, Moran’s family issued a statement on Facebook. “We are deeply saddened by the tragic events unfolding in the Nanda Devi region of the Indian Himalaya,” they wrote.
“As a family, we share the same emotions that all next of kin are experiencing in not knowing the whereabouts or wellbeing of those closest to us,” they added. “We are grateful to the Indian Mountaineering Foundation who are coordinating search and rescue efforts on the ground and in the air under extremely difficult conditions in a very remote area of the Himalaya.”
On Monday, Pithoragarh District Magistrate Vijay Kumar Jogdande confirmed to CNN that five bodies were found partially buried in different locations on the peak through aerial photographs.
Based on the evidence, Jogdande told the outlet that the missing team was likely caught in a “huge avalanche” and noted that “the chances of survival are almost zero now.”
He also noted that authorities likely would’ve advised the group against climbing the unnamed, unclimbed peak.
By Monday afternoon local time, search operations concluded and authorities were determining a plan to recover the bodies, according to CNN.
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The Himalaya search comes less than two weeks after 11 climbers died while climbing Mount Everest. The fatalities in the mountain range have officially reached more than 20 in the spring season, officials confirmed to The Himalayan Times.
In addition to the 11 Mount Everest, four people have died on Mt. Makalu, three on Mt. Kanchenjunga, and one each on Mt. Lhotse, Mt. Annapurna and Mt. Cho Oyu.