Rescuers have all but given up on finding three climbers missing in a Nepal avalanche which killed at least nine people attempting to scale one of the world's highest peaks, officials said on Monday.
An air rescue mission was halted as hopes faded for two French mountaineers and a Canadian who disappeared as a wall of snow hit their tents near the peak of the the 8,156-metre (26,759-foot) Manaslu in the early hours of Sunday.
"I feel sad to say that the possibility of survivors of those missing from avalanche has almost ended," tourism ministry spokesman Balkrishna Ghimire told AFP, adding that a ground search would continue.
"The avalanche occurred at the height of 7,300 meters, a very high altitude. Even if the missing mountaineers were only wounded, it will be hard for them to remain alive.
Image provided by Simrik Air shows rescuers assisting a foreigner who was injured following an avalance at the Mount Manaslu base camp in Gorkha Districtst on September 23. Rescuers have scaled down a search for two French climbers and a Canadian missing in a Nepal avalanche which killed at least nine people attempting to scale one of the world's highest peaks.
"There is no human settlement and no other fellow people at such height who can take care of them and treat them."
If the deaths are confirmed, the toll of 12 victims would make it the deadliest avalanche on the Himalayas since 2005 when a powder-snow avalanche ploughed into a French expedition's base camp on Kang Guru, killing 18 people.
Survivors said that they were woken by the sound of the wall of snow tearing down the mountain as they described a scene reminiscent of a "war zone".
"I woke up to a huge roar... Then the avalanche came down and crushed our tents. We were swept 100 metres down with our tents -- others were carried 300 metres," Andreas Reiter said from his hospital bed in Kathmandu where he is being treated for spinal injuries.
Map locating Nepal's Manaslu, one of the world's deadliest peaks. Rescuers have scaled down a search for two French climbers and a Canadian missing in a Nepal avalanche which killed at least nine people attempting to scale one of the world's highest peaks.
"I was not buried under the avalanche, I was carried with it. It was very high and so many tents were falling down. But I couldn't move and couldn't help people who were screaming for help and dying," the 26-year-old German told AFP.
District police chief Basanta Bahadur Kunwar said five mountaineers had been airlifted from among 13 survivors at Manaslu base camp Sunday and were being treated in Kathmandu.
"The other eight mountaineers who are at the base camp have not sustained any injuries. They have said they will either walk down or will make an attempt to reach the peak again and have told officials that they should not be rescued."
Eight of the dead have been identified, Nepal tourism board spokesman Sarad Pradhan told AFP, adding that four were French, one a Nepali mountain guide, one a Spaniard, one German and one Italian.
The French government released a statement confirming the deaths of its nationals and saying three other French citizens had been taken by helicopter to a hospital in Kathmandu.
In this handout photograph released by Nepalese helicopter aviation service Simrik Air, rescuers are pictured at a site following an avalance at Manaslu in Gorkha District. Rescuers have scaled down a search for two French climbers and a Canadian missing in a Nepal avalanche which killed at least nine people attempting to scale one of the world's highest peaks.
Christian Trommsdorff, of the French national union of mountain guides (SNGM), described the French victims as two guides from the Chamonix area in the Alps and their clients.
The avalanche happened at around 7,400 metres and carried away part of camp number three at 6,800 metres, Trommsdorff told AFP.
Manaslu, the eighth-highest mountain in the world, is considered one of the most dangerous, with scores of deaths in recent years and just a few hundred successful ascents.
Laxmi Dhakal, head of the home ministry's disaster response division, confirmed the avalanche had hit camp three and said it had created "a flood of snow".
Nepal is home to eight of the world's 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, including the world's highest, Mount Everest, and attracts thousands of mountaineers every year.
Most come in the spring, when Himalayan conditions are at their best, but there is also a short climbing season in late September and October after the monsoon rains end.
Manaslu is nicknamed "Killer Mountain" by locals because a series of snowslides have claimed the lives of scores of mountaineers since it was first conquered in 1956. The latest deaths mean at least 62 people have died, according to an AFP tally.
It saw its worst disaster when a South Korean expedition was buried by snow while attempting to climb the northeast face in 1972. The 15 dead included 10 Sherpas and the Korean expedition leader.
Those who attempt the summit are experienced climbers who will tackle other Himalayan peaks as well, said Dawa Steven Sherpa, two-time summiteer of Everest from Kathmandu.
"People who normally climb up Manaslu have bigger peaks in mind, or they are people who are attempting to climb all the 8,000m peaks," he told AFP.
"Very few people climb Manaslu for the sake of just climbing Manaslu."
Nepal's worst-ever climbing disaster happened in 1995 when a huge avalanche struck the camp of a Japanese trekking group in the Mount Everest region, killing 42 people including 13 Japanese.