Climbers on Friday found the body of one of two Indians who went missing near the top of Mount Everest, while a helicopter brought back the body of an Australian woman who died on the mountain. Worsening weather was forcing everyone to descend to safety, with the last missing climber presumed dead.
The discovery of Paresh Chandra Nath's body brings the official Everest death toll this year to four. Searchers were unable to find the body of a fifth climber, Gautam Ghosh, who disappeared along with Nath on May 21.
Without official confirmation that Ghosh had died, his family in the eastern Indian city of Kolkata still held out hope he had somehow survived. He had been attempting to climb Everest for a fourth time, after failing to reach the summit on previous attempts.
"We are still hoping against hope," his sister Ratna Ghosh said. "It is difficult to believe he is dead. Losing him would be irreparable."
Climbers found Nath's body near the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit, and carried it down to Camp 4 at South Col, which sits at an altitude of 8,000 meters (26,000 feet), according to Wangchu Sherpa of the Trekking Camp Nepal agency. The body was being kept inside a tent, and it was unclear if or when it would be brought down this year.
His widow, Sabita Nath, described the loss as "shattering." As owner of a small company that made mountaineering equipment, Nath "was the only breadwinner for the family," she said from their home in Durgapur, an industrial city in the Indian state of West Bengal.
High winds and falling snow forced the search team to stop their operation and descend to safer camps.
"It is unlikely that we will look for the other missing Indian climber now because the weather is really bad and it is almost the end of the climbing season," Sherpa said.
Climbers still hoped by Sunday to bring down the body of another Indian climber Subhash Paul, who died on Monday, from Camp 3 to a lower point where it could be retrieved by a helicopter. Strong winds and thin air at higher altitudes prevent helicopters from going much beyond Camp 2.
"We are waiting to receive his body," said his brother, Pranab Paul, in Kathmandu. "As soon as his body is back, we will try to get it home" to their village of Bankura, also in West Bengal.
Earlier Friday, a helicopter recovered the body of Australian climber Maria Strydom from the mountain.
Her husband, Robert Gropel, who had been climbing with her, described a heroic effort by Sherpa guides to save her life after she began suffering from altitude sickness.
"She made it down to Camp 4 and it was a superhuman effort. She was without oxygen for about 20 hours," he told Australian Broadcasting Corp., explaining that "because of the length of time it took her, and took us to get her down, oxygen only has a certain lifespan in a bottle and it ran out."
Strydom died on May 21. While Gropel was airlifted to Kathmandu for medical treatment, Sherpa guides worked to carry Strydom's body down to Camp 2, and the helicopter took it to Kathmandu airport. Her husband and rescuers then accompanied the body in a van to the morgue at Tribhuwan University Teaching Hospital.
Gropel said he is slowly accepting his wife's death. "I'm just trying to be strong. I'm learning to cope and block out what causes sort of, breakdowns and trying to get the job done of bringing my wife home," he told ABC.
The body of Dutch climber Eric Arnold, who died from altitude sickness on May 20, was brought down the mountain and flown to the capital on Thursday.
Nearly 400 foreign climbers and Sherpa guides made it to the top of Everest this year, after two back-to-back years of disaster prevented almost all attempts at the summit.
Separately, a Sherpa guide died on the adjacent peak of Lhotse and his body has been recovered.