SYDNEY (Reuters) - The parents of an injured Australian climber travelled to Nepal on Monday to help their son retrieve the body of his wife from Mount Everest after she became the second person to perish on the world's highest mountain in as many days.
Maria Strydom, a 34-year-old university lecturer, developed altitude sickness and died while descending from the summit on Saturday, the Kathmandu-based company that organised her expedition said.
The deaths of Strydom and Dutch climber Eric Ary Arnold, as well as the disappearance of two Indian mountaineers over the weekend, are sober reminders of the deadly risks of scaling the 8,850-metre (29,035 feet) peak. Their ascents were among the first in three years.
While fatalities are not unusual, there are fears the latest casualties will again hit mountaineering in Nepal. At least 18 people died a year ago when an earthquake sent a massive snow slide careening into Base Camp, while an avalanche in the treacherous Khumbu Icefall killed 16 guides in 2014. The back-to-back tragedies had halted climbing on Everest.
"It is a difficult and challenging climb and many people have died," Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told reporters in Brisbane, adding that the government was assisting with the repatriation of Strydom's body.
Strydom developed altitude sickness while descending from Camp Four, at about 8,000 metres (26,250 feet), on Saturday. Arnold died a day earlier after reaching the summit.
Two Indian climbers are still missing after they lost contact with their group on Saturday on Everest's high slopes known as the "death zone".
May is one of the most popular months to scale Everest before the peak is shrouded by rain, cold and cloud brought on by the monsoon in June.
Strydom's husband, veterinarian Robert Gropel, was part of the climbing team and also suffered high altitude pulmonary oedema on the descent.
"We are really so glad that it seems that he'll make it," Strydom's sister, Aletta Newman, told Australian Associated Press from her home in Brisbane.
"He is able to speak but obviously he's absolutely distraught, he's absolutely broken," Newman said. "He's very determined not to leave Nepal without his wife."
Gropel's parents flew out of Australia late Sunday, hoping to arrange a helicopter evacuation for their son and his wife's body to Kathmandu, Newman said.
FROST BITE, INJURIES
Dozens of climbers have been rescued from Everest with frost bite and injuries in the past two days, hiking officials told Reuters over the weekend, without giving details.
Last year's earthquake forced hundreds of climbers to abandon their expeditions. The worst quake in Nepal's recorded history killed nearly 9,000 people across the Himalayan nation.
More than 350 climbers have reached the top of Everest this month from the Nepali side of the mountain while several people have climbed from Tibet.
Among them was 19-year-old Alyssa Azar, who on Saturday became the youngest Australian to reach the summit, and Lhakpa Sherpa, who notched a new record for female climbers with her seventh ascent.
Azar announced her safe return to base camp on her Facebook page on Monday: "Thanks everybody for your messages of support, I am now back safely in Base Camp after an amazing climb and successful expedition."
(Reporting by Jane Wardell; Editing by Ryan Woo)