SEOUL, Oct 17: Relatives dressed in black funeral suits wept in grief on Wednesday as the bodies of five South Korean mountain climbers arrived home from Nepal where they had died in a storm last week.
The caskets covered in white sheets were carried out from a terminal in Incheon International Airport before being loaded on vehicles headed to funeral homes in Seoul, Uijeongbu and Busan.
The five South Koreans and four Nepalese guides died when a storm swept the base camp on Gurja Himal on Friday night. Due to the remote location and more bad weather, rescuers only reached the area a day later and took two days to have their bodies recovered and brought to Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital.
Gurja Himal is a pristine and rarely climbed mountain, but the team’s experienced leader had been focusing on untried routes in recent years. Team leader Kim Chang-ho in 2013 became first South Korean to summit all 14 Himalayan peaks over 8,000 meters (26,250 feet) without using supplemental oxygen.
“What can a living person say to the deceased,” an emotional Lee In-jung, president of the Asia Alpine Association, said to reporters at the airport. “They will be climbing the Himalayas again (in the afterlife).”
The Corean Alpine Club had previously identified the other Koreans as Yu Yeong-jik, Im Il-jin, Jeong Jun-mo and Lee Jae-hoon. Yu was reportedly in charge of equipment for the team. Im was a filmmaker who specialized in documentaries of mountain climbers. South Korea’s Yonhap news agency said senior CAC member Jeong wasn’t part of Kim’s climbing team but was visiting the others at base camp.
The toll of nine made the storm Nepal’s deadliest climbing disaster since 2015, when 19 people were killed at Mount Everest base camp by an avalanche triggered by an earthquake that devastated the country. The previous year, an avalanche above Everest’s base camp killed 16 Nepalese Sherpa guides.
Nepalese officials said they would push the government to improve weather warnings to minimize future deaths.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, an amateur hiking enthusiast who visited Nepal in 2016, had expressed condolences in a Facebook post Sunday: “A snow storm has taken the nine climbers into the mountains forever, but their bravery and fighting spirit to break out a new route can never be buried.”