The worst disaster in the history of Mount Everest happened this morning as a avalanche killed 12 people and left 3 people missing.

Nepal Tourism Ministry official Krishna Lamsal said the avalanche hit about 6:30 a.m. Friday in an area just below Camp 2 at 21,000 feet, where climbers and guides had gathered to prepare for climbing season, which begins in mid-May.

Nepalese guides had set out early in the morning to prepare the ropes for hundreds of climbers when they were caught in a slide in an area nicknamed the “popcorn field.”

The Associated Press reported 12 bodies had been pulled from the pile of snow and ice and rescuers were searching for three other missing guides. Two others injured in the avalanche were taken to hospital by helicopter. All of the dead were Sherpa guides, Lamsal said.

Rescuers and climbers from the camp as well as a helicopter dispatched from Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, were aiding in the search for those missing and buried in the slide.

An eyewitness report from the scene said all of the climbers buried in the avalanche were Sherpas carrying loads to camps.

Mount Everest was first conquered by New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Nepalese Sherpa Tenzing Norgay in May 1953. Since then, more than 200 climbers have died attempting to scale the 29,035-foot summit. More than 4,000 climbers have since scaled the mountain.

The previous single deadliest incident on Everest occurred May 11, 1996, when eight climbers were killed in a snowstorm near the summit.

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