Avalanche victims ‘herded to death’ says survivor

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A police officer who survived a Himalayan mountaineering disaster has told how he escaped the horrific blizzards and avalanches which led to at least 29 deaths earlier this week.

Paul Sherridan, from Doncaster, said walkers were left stumbling through “an abyss of nothing” as dense snow left them unable to orient themselves on the slopes of the Annapurna range in Nepal.

He said trekkers should have been prevented from going up the mountain, but were “herded to their deaths” by guides who he alleged were not carrying the correct emergency equipment.

Rescuers have pulled out more than 230 trekkers, most of them foreigners, and are still searching the range looking for more survivors, who are believed to be stranded in lodges and huts.

Hiking remains difficult because of waist-deep snow. The Nepalese government has announced a high level committee with two senior ministers to monitor and co-ordinate rescue efforts in what is shaping up to be the country’s worst mountaineering tragedy.

Mr Sherridan, 49, a father-of-two who was hiking in the range on the “trip of a lifetime”, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme how he had walked into “an absolute position of fear and sheer terror” as he tried to descend.

“Somebody shouted – and I believe it was one of the guides – ‘Move forwards! Move forwards!’” he said. “But as we moved forwards, conditions worsened and we became involved in blacked-out conditions where the ground became the same colour as the sky and it was difficult to see which way was up and which way was down.

“As I descended this abyss of nothing, I realised that the people I was following didn’t know where they were.

“It was at that point that I realised I had gone from a place of safety into an absolute position of fear and sheer terror.

“I looked around and I saw a Nepalese boy and his face was frozen. There was sheer glass ice hanging on his cheek. I went across to him and I said: ‘Your face is frozen’ and he said: ‘I know’ and he began to cry and we both began to cry.

“I didn’t know whether or not this Nepalese boy was going to survive. The injuries to his face were horrific.”

At one point, Mr Sherridan said he heard “the rumble of an avalanche and the large thunder and roar of snow falling”. He added: “I just knew, due to the number of people, that there were going to be fatalities. It was horrific.

“My view is that this incident could have been prevented. I knew the weather forecast before I set off.

“Having spoken to my guide, who wasn’t there but obviously has been there, they say that the weight that the porters carry is so great that they leave their own personal safety equipment behind to lighten their load. That to me is an absolute disgusting folly.

“All they are doing is leading people to a certain death, and themselves.

“If someone had taken the responsibility just to stop people going up there, I’m sure the fatalities would have been a lot less. They were herded up that mountain to their death, and something needs to be done to address those facts.”

The Annapurna trekking route, 100 miles north-west of the capital, Katmandu, was filled with foreign hikers during the peak October trekking season, when the air is generally clear and cool. There were also many Nepalese on the trails.

Chief government official of Mustang district Baburam Bhandari said helicopters resumed the search yesterday to find the stranded trekkers.