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image from flickr

Nepalese officials have confirmed that unauthorized sightseeing helicopter flights have been going on over Everest and Sherpas are concerned that the vibrations created could trigger avalanches.

Pasang Kaji Sherpa spoke with the BBC and had this to say about the unauthorized flights:

“The sightseeing helicopters are hovering above the Khumbu Icefall and making things difficult for us. We worry that the vibrations caused by helicopters can crack ice blocks and snow packs on mountains overlooking the Khumbu Icefall. There is a deep-seated fear among Sherpa porters that they may be hit by avalanches this year as well and these helicopters are increasing fears.”

Last April a severe earthquake triggered avalanches that claimed 18 lives on Everest. Helicopter touring companies maintain that they are not venturing into the restricted zone but those on the ground have reported otherwise.

The Department of Tourism has issued clearance for helicopters to transport climbing gear into the restricted flight zone. One helicopter shuttled back and forth 6 times carrying the equivalent of 87 Sherpa loads to the one of the most dangerous sections of the climb as reported by Outside Online. This marks the first time in history that such flights have been authorized.

Phurba Namgyal Sherpa expressed fears, “That such a concession may be misused for more sightseeing and other commercial purposes and increase the risk of avalanche in the region.”

But can helicopters even cause an avalanche? According to the Utah Avalanche Center,  “low flying helicopter trigger avalanches only happen in extremely unstable conditions in which natural avalanches would likely occur on their own anyway. In 90 percent of avalanche fatalities, the avalanche is triggered by the weight of the victim, or someone in the victim’s party.”

With that said, the video below was posted yesterday by a Nepali Doctor Yogesh Subedi, demonstrating just how fragile conditions are on the mountain.