An avalanche in Nepal killed at least nine climbers including a group of French mountaineers and other Europeans trying to scale one of the world’s most deadly peaks.

A group of about 25 people was near the top of the 8,156-metre Manaslu when it was hit by a wall of snow on Saturday night in one of the worst tragedies in Himalayan mountaineering in recent years.

“Most of the dead people are French,” said Ang Tshering Sherpa, vice-president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, after speaking to expedition members at the base camp of Manaslu by satellite telephone.

“One or two are Spanish, one Italian, one (Nepali) Sherpa and one German.”

Three climbers were thought to still be missing when rescue operations were called off for the night.

“So far, 13 people have been rescued alive, of whom five have been airlifted to Kathmandu for treatment,” Basanta Bahadur Kunwar, the local deputy superintendent of police, told AFP by telephone.

France’s national union of mountain guides (SNGM) said four French climbers were killed and three others were reported missing.

“According to information from the base camp, there were seven French victims. The four dead have been identified by their photos and three are missing, as well as two injured who have been evacuated by helicopter to Kathmandu,” SNGM vice-president Christian Trommsdorff told AFP.

He said the French climbers were part of two expeditions. Based on information the group has received, the avalanche happened Saturday night on the normal path for climbing to Manaslu’s summit.

“This avalanche happened at around 7,400 metres and carried away part of camp three at 6,800 metres,” said Trommsdorff.

Police said several injured climbers were stuck at base camp because rescue helicopters could not fly due to poor visibility.

The tourism ministry had earlier confirmed that a German and Spanish man had died alongside a male local guide but the gender of the other dead and injured was unclear by Sunday evening.

Manaslu, the eighth highest mountain in the world, is considered one of the most dangerous, with scores of deaths in recent years and just a few hundred successful ascents.

Laxmi Dhakal, head of the home ministry’s disaster response division, confirmed the avalanche had hit camp three and said it had created “a flood of snow”.

Nepal is home to eight of the world’s 14 peaks over 8,000 metres, including the world’s highest, Mount Everest, and attracts thousands of mountaineers every year.

Most come in the spring, when Himalayan conditions are at their best, but there is also a short climbing season in late September and October after the monsoon rains end.

Nepal’s worst-ever climbing disaster happened in 1995 when a huge avalanche struck the camp of a Japanese trekking group in the Mount Everest region, killing 42 people including 13 Japanese.

In 2005 a powder-snow avalanche ploughed into a French expedition’s base camp, on Kang Guru, in the Manang region of central Nepal, sweeping all seven members of the team as well as 11 Nepalese staff to their deaths.

Manaslu saw its worst disaster when a South Korean expedition was buried by snow while attempting to climb the northeast face in 1972. The 15 dead included 10 Sherpas and the Korean expedition leader.

The French embassy in Kathmandu was referring all calls on Sunday to the foreign ministry in Paris, which was not immediately available for comment.

Anish Gupta, manager of the Kathmandu-based firm Cho-Oyu Trekking, said 14 foreign mountaineers were attempting to climb the Manaslu peak through his agency at the time of the avalanche, including nine Italians, two French and three Ecuadorans.

“Of them, a Sherpa guide died in the avalanche at camp three and one Italian climber, Alberto Magliano, is still missing. The others all have returned back to the base camp and are safe,” Gupta said.