Four Kiwis were among a climbing group on Mt Everest when a deadly avalanche struck on Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese advance party guides and leaving four others missing.
The New Zealanders, including two women, are with a team from Wanaka-based company Adventure Consultants which organises trips to the world's highest summit. Three of the dead Sherpas, who lived in Nepal, were also working for the firm.
Expedition leader Dean Staples, base camp manager Caroline Blaikie, food boss Sarah Macnab and electrician Mark Ayre were a six-hour hike from the disaster when it hit. Adventure Consultants general manager Suze Kelly said the staff, all based in Wanaka, are in shock at the base camp and watching helplessly as helicopters ferried dead colleagues off the mountain.
"We have been in constant contact with our team by satellite phone and a big priority was letting their families back here know they are safe," Kelly said. "The climbing fraternity is a close-knit community and everyone is devastated by what has happened. "The Sherpas were carrying supplies and food from the base camp to another spot further ahead when they encountered the avalanche.
"We are relieved that our team at base camp are safe but saddened by the death of the Sherpas, who we had employed for the trip."
Expedition leader Staples, 49, has summited Everest nine times. The experienced Kiwi team set off with 25 contracted Sherpas on the first stage of the climb on April 2.
"The team is still at the base camp and at this stage we do not know when they are expected to return," Kelly said. "They have not had much sleep and are now pretty exhausted. Losing their Sherpa friends has been the hardest part. It is a lot to take in."
Kelly said Adventure Consultants had been operating for more than 20 years and chief executive Guy Cotter was on his way from New Zealand to Nepal to help.
The three dead Sherpas who were working for the Wanaka firm are: Phurba Ongyal from Pangboche, Lakpa Tenjing from Khumjung and Chhring Ongchu from Khumjung.
Kiwiblog author David Farrar, from Wellington, was returning from a trek to Everest Base Camp with a party of New Zealanders when the disaster happened. "We were in the Base Camp area two days before the avalanche," he told the Herald on Sunday. "The avalanche was up near Camp 1 which is higher up the mountain."
It's understood five of 13 Sherpas killed were employed by an NBC Everest expedition.