KATHMANDU, Nepal – The first group of survivors from an earthquake-triggered avalanche that swept through the Mount Everest base camp were flown to Nepal's capital on Sunday and taken to hospitals. None appeared to have life-threatening injuries.
At least 17 people were killed when Saturday's avalanche, set off by a massive earthquake, obliterated part of the rocky village of nylon tents, where dozens of teams were training and acclimatizing themselves to higher altitudes as they prepared to make summit attempts in the next few weeks.
Twenty-two of the most seriously injured had already been taken by helicopter for treatment in the village of Pheriche, the location of the nearest medical facility. But bad weather and communications were hampering more helicopter flights, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
Later Sunday, a plane carrying 15 injured people arrived in the capital, Kathmandu, from Lukla, home of the closest airport to Mount Everest. Officials refused to provide details on their conditions, but most appeared to have broken bones or other treatable injuries.
Of those evacuated, 12 were Nepalese Sherpas. There was also one person each from China, South Korea and Japan.
The Sherpa survivors said they feared that many more people could be dead on Everest.
Pemba Sherpa, a 43-year-old guide with the right side of his face bandaged, was surprised he had survived.
He rushed from his tent when the earthquake hit Saturday and was standing in the open when "I heard a big noise, and the next thing I know I was swept away by the snow," he said. "I must have been swept almost 200 meters (yards)."
Later, he regained consciousness. "I was in a tent surrounded by some foreigners. I did not know what happened or where I was," he said after being taken to Kathmandu Medical College Hospital.
For generations, thousands of ethnic Sherpas, many of whom also use "Sherpa" as a surname, have made their livings working on mountaineering expeditions as guides, porters or cooks.
Saturday's magnitude-7.8 quake struck at around noon, just over a year after the deadliest avalanche on record hit Everest, killing 16 Sherpa guides on April 18, 2014.
Witnesses said the avalanche began on Mount Kumori, a 7,000-meter (22,966-foot) -high mountain just a few kilometers (miles) from Everest, gathering strength as it headed toward base camp and the lower reaches of Everest.
Numerous climbers may now be cut off on routes leading to the top of the world's highest peak.
Kuduni Sherpa, another survivor flown into Kathmandu, said he was cooking in a meal tent when the quake struck.
"We all rushed out to the open and the next moment a huge wall of snow just piled on me," he said in a brief airport interview before being driven to a nearby hospital. "I managed to dig out of what could easily have been my grave. I wiggled and used my claws to dig as much as I could. I was suffocating, I could not breathe. But I knew I had to survive."
When he finally dug his way out, gulping in fresh air, he was surrounded by devastation. Part of the base camp village was gone.
"I looked around and saw the tents all torn and crushed. Many people were injured," he said. "I had lived but lost many of my friends."
More than 4,000 climbers have scaled the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit since 1953, when Everest was first conquered by New Zealand climber Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. The numbers have skyrocketed in recent years, with more than 800 climbers during the 2013 spring season.
Associated Press writer Tim Sullivan in New Delhi contributed to this report.