Kathmandu: An aerial search and rescue operation for two Japanese climbers stranded on a Himalayan range in northeastern Nepal ended bleakly on Sunday with the helicopter looking for them crashing above 16,000 ft and the pilot and his crew member reported missing.
"We are sitting in the control tower of the airport, awaiting further news," said police sub-inspector Ram Lakhan Mahato. "Two more helicopters are scouting the area to find the men but the dust and storm is hampering rescue attempts."
The police officer said that the missing helicopter, belonging to private airline Fishtail Air, had flown to the Ama Dablam range in northern Solukhumbu district, to locate and rescue two Japanese climbers who had been stranded.
The Ama Dablam - meaning mother`s necklace - is a mountain range rising up to 22,349 feet (6,812 metres), the third most popular peak for climbers.
The chopper, flown by Nepali pilot Sabin Basnet, who was accompanied by a technician, Purna Awale, managed to rescue one of the stranded climbers, who was then taken back to the base camp. However, when it returned for the remaining climber, it is said to have crashed at around 16,500 ft while trying to land.
A private television station, quoting an official at the Phaplu airport, said both the pilot and the crew member had died in the crash.
However, there was no immediate confirmation, either by police or Fishtail authorities.
Mahato said a helicopter owned by Dynasty Air and a second chopper flown by Fishtail were still searching for the missing chopper and its pilot and crew.
There was no further information about the second Japanese climber still stranded on Mt Ama Dablam.
The Solukhumbu region is responsible for the highest number of air crashes due to bad weather and difficult terrain.
In August, an aircraft flown by a domestic airline, Agni Air, crashed after it was unable to land it northern Nepal and tried to return to Kathmandu.
All 14 people on board, including six foreigners, died in the crash.
Last month, three Japanese climbers were killed by an avalanche on Mt Dhaulagiri, along with their Nepali guide.
While the body of one was recovered, the other two still remain untraced.