Avalanche survivor: I'm probably one of the luckiest people in world

(CBS News) An American is telling a frightening story of surviving an avalanche in the Himalayas. At least eight climbers were killed on Sunday. Glen Plake told CBS News he's "probably one of the luckiest people in the world at the moment."

Plake is one of the world's so-called "altitude junkies," who don't just simply climb mountains, but ski down them as well. That is, unless the expedition ends in disaster.

Plake, now in Katmandu, is alive, but many others aren't.

The target of the expedition Plake was on was Mount Manaslu in Nepal - the eighth highest mountain in the world that's almost 27,000 feet high. Climbers have been scaling it for more than 50 years, but this time the idea was to get up and ski down without additional oxygen.

Plake - the flamboyant, devil-may-care Californian - and his two French colleagues talked about their plan in a television interview before they left on the expedition. Plake said with a laugh during the appearance that the climb was "a good idea."

His fellow adventurer Remy Lecluse said during the same interview, "We are playing on the mountain, it's nothing serious, it is game first of all."

The game, though, turned deadly. Lecluse is missing and presumed dead, as is Greg Costa, another traveler on the same expedition.

About two dozen climbers were sleeping at a staging camp at just above 22,000 feet when the avalanche hit. All of the tents - and the people in them - were swept away.

Plake found himself battered and bruised, but still in his tent and his sleeping bag about 1,000 feet down the mountain. He says he immediately began looking for the others. They had all been wearing radio transmitters in case of avalanche. He found no one.

Plake told CBS News, "You know, you are doing everything you want to do because you know your friends' lives depend on your next actions, and unfortunately everything I did proved to produce nothing. So, at that point, I started thinking about my own life, and started preparing. I was still at 6,600 meters (21,653 feet), and I was standing with no shoes on."

The search operation has resumed again after being suspended for bad weather. But there's not much hope of finding more survivors.

Plake says he wouldn't want this accident to discourage people from skiing. He says life is full of risks.

It seems the political dimension to this tragedy as well. There were so many climbers on the Nepal side of the mountain this year because China hasn't issued climbing permits because of tensions with Tibet.

Watch Mark Phillips' full report in the video above.

  • Mark Phillips

    Mark Phillips returned to the CBS News London bureau as a correspondent in 1993. He has covered many major stories since then, including the war in the Balkans, the death of Princess Diana and the weapons inspection conflicts in Iraq.

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