SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Relatives dressed in black wept in grief Wednesday as the bodies of five South Korean mountain climbers arrived home from Nepal where they died in a storm last week.
The caskets covered in white sheets were carried from a terminal in Incheon International Airport to vehicles headed to funeral homes in Seoul, Uijeongbu and Busan.
People also flocked to a separate memorial altar at the University of Seoul to pay tribute to the climbers, who included one of South Korea's most famous mountaineers, a graduate of the school. University officials couldn't immediately confirm the number of visitors.
The five South Koreans and four Nepalese guides died when a storm swept their base camp on Gurja Himal on Friday night. Due to the remote location and bad weather, rescuers only reached the area a day later and took two days to recover their bodies and take them to Kathmandu, Nepal's capital.
Gurja Himal is a pristine and rarely climbed mountain, but the team's experienced leader had been focusing on untried routes in recent years. Team leader Kim Chang-ho in 2013 became first South Korean to summit all 14 Himalayan peaks over 8,000 meters (26,250 feet) without using supplemental oxygen.
"What can a living person say to the deceased," an emotional Lee In-jung, president of the Asia Alpine Association, said to reporters at the airport. "They will be climbing the Himalayas again (in the afterlife)."
The other Koreans who died were Yu Yeong-jik, Im Il-jin, Jeong Jun-mo and Lee Jae-hoon. Yu was reportedly in charge of equipment for the team. Im was a filmmaker who specialized in documentaries of mountain climbers. South Korea's Yonhap news agency said Jeong, a senior member of the Corean Alpine Club, wasn't part of Kim's climbing team but was visiting the others at base camp.
The nine fatalities made the storm Nepal's deadliest climbing disaster since 2015, when 19 people were killed at Mount Everest base camp by an avalanche triggered by an earthquake that devastated the country. The previous year, an avalanche above Everest's base camp killed 16 Nepalese Sherpa guides.
Nepalese officials said they will push the government to improve weather warnings to minimize future deaths.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, an amateur hiking enthusiast who visited Nepal in 2016, expressed his condolences in a Facebook post on Sunday: "A snow storm has taken the nine climbers into the mountains forever, but their bravery and fighting spirit to break out a new route can never be buried."