At about 4:45 last Saturday morning, September 22, a huge slab avalanche, caused by a massive serac on a high ridge above Camp 3 that broke loose, sweeping down the upper slopes of 26,758-foot (8,156- meter) Manaslu in Nepal. At least 15 climbers at the camp high on the mountain were killed by the slide as they slept.
American hot-dog freestyle skier Glen Plake, who was climbing Manaslu to ski down it, said, "There were 25 tents at Camp 3 and all of them were destroyed, 12 tents at Camp 2 were banged up and moved around." Glen was sharing a tent with his friend Greg Costa, while Rémy Lacluse, another friend and extreme French skier, was in a nearby tent.
Glen was lying in the tent reading his Bible when the pair heard a roar. "Greg looked at me and said, 'That was a big gust of wind,' then a second later, "No, that was an avalanche.'" The avalanche hit their tent, sweeping Glen almost 1,000 feet down the mountain. He came to a stop, "...still in my sleeping bag, still inside the tent....I punched my way out of the tent and started searching. Searched for 10 minutes when I realized I was barefoot. Greg was using my down suit for a pillow and I found my suit, I found everything that was in my tent--camera, sleeping bag, ski boots, it was like someone had thrown my gear in the back of a pickup--but there was no sign of Greg. Rémy and his tent are nowhere to be found." Both died in the avalanche.
Climbers below at Camp 2 woke to the sounds of the avalanche and the wind ahead of it and know that the situation was bad above. After getting dressed and stepping outside they could see headlamps high above and hear shouts and cries as the victims above began searching for their comrades. The climbers threw their gear together and climbed to Camp 3, where they began using avalanche shovels and gloved hands to dig for survivors.
Canadian skier skier Greg Hill from Revelstoke, British Columbia, told news media, "Some were cold and somewhat injured but others were buried up to their neck and in a desperate situation of need, so right away we started digging out those who were above the snow or somewhat above the snow and digging them out as best we could." Hill also saw his friend Glen Plake safe, although his two friends were dead. Hill said, "Somehow Glen was somewhat OK and as he zipped himself out of his sleeping bag buried in snow, he couldn't find his partner. It was heart-wrenching. He had been lucky whereas the person inches beside him had not."
Later a rescue team and helicopter operated by Fishtail Air evacuated the injured climbers and removed the dead ones from the mountain.
In the aftermath of this horrible tragedy, a controversy has erupted over the coverage of mountaineering accidents like this by the mainstream media. Many of the ensuing stories depicted the alpinists as reckless daredevils and that the mountain was perhaps overcrowded since the Tibet-China border is closed to right now. Then there is the television reporting, like CBS, which sensationally reported: "Well, they call them 'altitude junkies.' They don't just climb mountains, they climb them and then they ski down them, except when the expedition ends in disaster." An insightful response-- Commentary: Mainstream Media And Mountaineering Disasters -- to this typical simplistic reporting is analyzed by Kraig Becker on theadventureblog.
Likewise, many climbers are offended by some of the photos published of this tragedy like one in the Washington Post that shows sleeping bag-encased victims labeled with plastic tags that are being stored in a warehouse. While newsworthy, it is kind of tacky. What if that was your loved one?
Photograph above: Climbers await a rescue helicopter in avalanche debris at Camp 3 on Mansalu. Photograph courtesy Alpine Ascents International