Eight-year-old among victims of Everest attempt

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The Independent Online

An eight-year-old girl was among three members of an Australian army expedition to Mount Everest killed in an avalanche, it was revealed last night.

An eight-year-old girl was among three members of an Australian army expedition to Mount Everest killed in an avalanche, it was revealed last night.

The child, her father and his partner were part of a support team attached to the expedition to climb the world's highest mountain. They were killed when the avalanche struck near the village of Dhunche, 150 miles (242km) northwest of the Nepalese capital, Khatmandu.

Last night, as questions were being asked as to why an eight-year-old child should have been attached to such a potentially dangerous expedition, the team said that it had not yet decided whether or not to abandon its attempt.

The Australians were accompanying the Australian Army Alpine Association Tenix Everest 2001 Expedition, which was completing a 10-day acclimatisation trek in Nepal before heading to Tibet to climb Mount Everest.

A spokeswoman for the Australian defence department said: "The group of three missing Australians were walking ahead of the main group when [they were] struck by the avalanche, which appears to have been caused by ice cliffs fracturing off Hinchuli Peak."

The dead Australians were named as Squadron Leader Peter Szypula of the Royal Australian Air Force; his partner, Flight-Sergeant Michelle Hackett, and her daughter Kathleen Cassandra Hackett.

An Israeli hiker, not connected to the expedition, was also killed by the avalanche. In Canberra, Lieutenant Brian Agnew, president of the Alpine Association, said he had been told that the avalanche could not have been predicted. The dead were said to have been buried beneath 66ft (20m) of snow and ice.

"The locals have reported that this avalanche was the most incredible and unusual event they've seen," he said, adding that he personally knew the victims.

"They were outdoors-loving people, and this was the sort of activity they did often."

Lieutenant Agnew described the warm-up trek the Australians were on as "straightforward and simple".

None of the victims were climbers but were helping prepare the group for the summit climb. Twelve climbers from the army, air force and navy had been preparing for three years and were the first all-Australian team to attempt the climb via the North Ridge route.

Lorraina Mulholland, a member of the base camp staff, told Reuters news agency yesterday that a decision about whether to continue with the attempt to climb up the 29,035ft (8,840m) mountain would be made within the next few days.

A total of 984 people have climbed Everest, which was first scaled by New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in May 1953. Some 167 people have been killed in making ascents on both sides of the mountain.

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