French climbers reported missing after Nepal avalanche

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At least three French climbers have gone missing in Nepal while scaling a peak near Mount Everest after an avalanche hit the area (AFP/Lakpa SHERPA)

At least three French climbers were missing after an avalanche hit the area of Nepal they were in near Mount Everest, mountaineering groups said Sunday.

The climbers were attempting to scale an approximately 6,000-metre (19,700-foot) peak near Everest, The Himalayan Times reported.

"We don't have clear information yet on the number of people missing," Nepal National Mountain Guides Association president Ang Norbu Sherpa told AFP.

"We have sent a very skilled team of five mountain guides. They are on their way and will start the search operation from tomorrow (Monday) morning."

The French Federation of Alpine and Mountain Clubs (FFCAM) said a team of eight climbers had left France for Nepal in late September to summit several peaks south of the 6,812-metre (22,349-foot) Ama Dablam in the Everest region.

Three of them left the team on October 24 to climb a peak near Ama Dablam, but had not been heard from since October 26, the group said in a statement released Sunday.

A helicopter sent by FFCAM to search for them "spotted climbing tracks as well as debris from a large-scale avalanche".

"Today... a helicopter with a team of rescuers hurried to the spot to try and find possible survivors," the FFCAM statement added.

Stephane Benoist from expedition organiser GEAN told the France-based Dauphine Libere newspaper that he was "in shock, devastated" that the three climbers -- whom he named as Thomas Arfi, Louis Pachoud and Gabriel Miloche -- had gone missing.

A Nepal tourism department official told the Himalayan Times the climbers had not obtained permission from authorities to summit the mountain.

All climbers in Nepal are required to apply for a permit from the government or the Nepal Mountaineering Association to scale the country's peaks.

Climbers have started returning to Nepal after the pandemic forced a complete shutdown of its mountaineering industry last year and devastated the tourism-dependent economy.

The Himalayan nation of 30 million people re-opened to tourists and scrapped quarantine requirements for vaccinated foreigners in September.

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