An Indian helicopter carrying elite paramilitary mountaineers took off on Wednesday for a "very high-risk" operation to retrieve five dead climbers and three others believed killed scaling a treacherous Himalayan peak.
Air Force choppers spotted five bodies on Monday on the slopes of Nanda Devi while looking for the four Britons, two Americans, one Indian and one Australian believed killed by an avalanche last week.
The remains of the three others, all part of originally a 12-member team led by highly experienced British climber Martin Moran, were believed to be nearby. Four other Britons split from the bigger group and were rescued on the weekend.
Wednesday's operation began at 5:00 am (2330 GMT) when a military helicopter with four Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) mountaineers and five Air Force personnel left the nearby hill town of Munsyari.
The ITBP climbers were to be dropped by the helicopter 18,000-20,000 feet (5,500-6,100 meters) up India's second-highest mountain, police spokesman Vivek Kumar Pandey told AFP.
Pandey on Tuesday described the mission as "a very high-risk and high-altitude operation" in a zone where avalanches are frequent.
"In recent times such a high-altitude retrieval has not been carried out in Indian mountains," he added.
9 members' team of ITBP and IAF_MCC tried today for retrieval of mountaineers from a glacier bawl of an unclimbed peak near Nanda Devi East. Not feasible to slither down due to difficult terrain, altitude, limited approach, probability of avalanches and turbulent wind conditions
The team is now mulling an operation on foot- where rescuers will be dropped off at the Nanda Devi base camp, allowed to acclimate themselves to the tough conditions & then proceed to retrieve the bodies on foot. It's likely this operation will be undertaken in 2-3 days.
The team led by Moran had permission to climb the eastern peak of Nanda Devi but a Facebook post by Moran's mountaineering firm on May 22 said that they planned to attempt "an unclimbed peak" around 6,500 meters (21,300 feet) high.
"This mountain range is more difficult to scale than Mount Everest. They knowingly risked their lives after changing their plans without informing the authorities," an official involved in the operation told AFP on condition of anonymity on Tuesday.
"The permission was granted for Nanda Devi East, and any diversion is illegal. We were completely unaware of their changed plan and that turned fatal," he said.