At least 12 Nepalese guides preparing routes up Mount Everest for commercial climbers were killed on Friday by an avalanche in the most deadly mountaineering accident ever on the world's highest peak, officials and rescuers say.
The men were among a large party of Sherpas carrying tents, food and ropes who headed out in bright sunshine in an early morning expedition ahead of the main climbing season starting later this month.
The avalanche occurred at around 6:45 am (0100 GMT) at an altitude of about 5,800 metres (19,000 feet) in an area known as the "popcorn field," which lies on the route into the treacherous Khumbu icefall.
"We have retrieved 12 bodies from the snow, we don't know how many more are trapped underneath," Nepal tourism ministry official Dipendra Paudel told AFP in Kathmandu.
Assisted by rescue helicopters, teams of climbers are still searching for survivors, with at least seven people plucked alive from the ice and snow, Paudel told AFP.
A rescue team official working at the base camp of the 8,848-metre (29,029-foot) peak, Lakpa Sherpa, told AFP that the death toll could rise as high as 14.