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Everest avalanche kills Nepalese guides ahead of peak season

At least a dozen climbers have been killed in an avalanche on Mount Everest, in what is the worst recorded accident on the world's highest peak. It has come early in the climbing season.

The avalanche hit just below Mount Everest Camp 2 around 6:30 am (0100 UTC) Friday, killing at least 12 Nepalese climbing guides.

Rescue workers pulled out 12 bodies from under mounds of snow and ice, Nepal Tourism Ministry official Krishna Lamsal said from Everest base camp. In response to bad weather, rescue workers halted their search for the remaining four people late Friday.

The area where the avalanche hit is known as the "popcorn field" at an altitude of 5,800 meters (19,000 feet). Authorities said they believed that all the dead were Nepalese Sherpas, who were preparing the route ahead of the climbing season - when the weather and conditions are better suited to scaling the mountain.

Rescue workers and helicopters were deployed to the area once the avalanche struck.

Nearly 4,000 people have climbed Mount Everest since 1953, when Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay first scaled the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit. Nearly 250 people have died on the mountain.

Friday's avalanche is the worst accident to hit Mount Everest since May 1996, when eight climbers were killed in one day due to a snow storm near the summit. The tragedy was immortalized in Jon Krakauer's best-selling book "Into Thin Air." In 1970, six Nepalese guides were killed in an avalanche.

hc/msh (AFP, AP)

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