Choppers retrieve 7 bodies believed to be Himalayan climbers

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Seven bodies believed to be from a missing team of international climbers were retrieved by helicopters from a notoriously dangerous Himalayan mountain in northern India on Wednesday, officials said.

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Indian air force helicopters brought the bodies to Pithoragarh town in northern India's Uttarakhand state, said Vijay Jogdande, a local civil administrator. He said the bodies were still unidentified because the faces were damaged and no identifying papers were found on them.

Veteran British mountaineer Martin Moran was leading three other Britons, two Americans, an Australian and an Indian on an expedition to climb Nanda Devi East. Moran's Scotland-based company said contact with the team was lost on May 26 following an avalanche.

An eighth body hasn't been found and authorities have abandoned the search.

"We tried our best but unfortunately we had to abandon the mission due to the limitation of terrain, snow hazards and inclement weather as monsoon has set in," said Vivek Kumar Pandey, a spokesman for the Indo-Tibetan Border Force.

He said authorities are taking DNA samples from the bodies, and after identification will hand them over to their countries through diplomatic channels.

They were first spotted on June 3 from a helicopter but authorities were unable to retrieve them. On June 14, two teams from paramilitary soldiers and the Indian Mountaineering Federation were sent from two different directions to reach the area and retrieve the bodies.

After about two weeks of climbing, the soldiers retrieved the bodies at an altitude of more than 5,000 meters (16,400 feet) and shifted them to a base camp, from where they were picked up by helicopters on Wednesday.

Officials said the seven bodies were found roped together.

Sandwiched between India and China, Nanda Devi East is a twin peak of Nanda Devi, India's second-highest mountain and the world's 23rd highest. The two peaks are connected by a razor-sharp 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) ridge at an elevation of 6,666 meters (22,000 feet).

Tenzing Norgay, the first man to climb Mount Everest along with Sir Edmund Hillary, recently described Nanda Devi East as the toughest peak in the Himalayas. Since so few have managed to climb it, the mountain has remained pristine, unlike littered and congested Everest.

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Associated Press writer Mariya Amrayeva contributed to this report.

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