(Adds death of Google engineer)
By Gopal Sharma
KATHMANDU, April 25 (Reuters) - An Indian army mountaineering team found 18 bodies on Mount Everest on Saturday, an army spokesman said, after a massive earthquake in Nepal unleashed an avalanche on the world's tallest mountain at the start of the main climbing season.
Nepal's Tourism Ministry could only confirm 10 deaths, but spokesman Gyanendra Shrestha said the death toll could rise, and that the avalanche had buried part of the base camp. He said two tents at the camp had been filled with the injured.
One of those killed was Dan Fredinburg, a Google engineer based in California. He died as a result of head injuries when the avalanche hit, according to a statement from the mountaineering company that had taken him to base camp.
"We pray too for all those who have lost their lives in one of the greatest tragedies ever to hit this Himalayan nation," Jagged Globe said.
Tourism ministry officials estimated that at least 1,000 climbers, including about 400 foreigners, had been at base camp or on Everest when the earthquake struck.
April is one of the most popular times to scale the 8,850-meter (29,035 foot) peak before rain and clouds cloak it at the end of May. Almost exactly a year ago, an avalanche killed 16 Nepali guides in what was the single deadliest day on the mountain.
Saturday's 7.9-magnitude quake was the strongest to hit Nepal for 81 years. It also shook neighboring India, China and Bangladesh. Early on Sunday, the official death toll stood at more than 1,300 people in Nepal.
Romanian climber Alex Gavan made a desperate appeal for a helicopter to fly in and evacuate climbers: "Many dead. Much more badly injured. More to die if not heli asap."
Carsten Lillelund Pedersen, a Danish climber, said about 40 people were being treated in a makeshift hospital at a tent at base camp. He said many of those injured had back injuries from being hit by rocks and ice when running from the avalanche.
The poor visibility after the first avalanche meant it was "difficult to see the following avalanches, and there are so many - maybe one every 5 min. - that I have stopped counting," Pedersen said on Facebook.
Mohan Krishna Sapkota, joint secretary in the Nepalese tourism ministry, said the government was struggling to assess the damage on Everest because of poor phone coverage.
"The trekkers are scattered all around the base camp and some had even trekked further up," Sapkota said. "It is almost impossible to get in touch with anyone."
Choti Sherpa, who works at the Everest Summiteers Association, said she had been unable to call her family and colleagues on the mountain. "Everyone is trying to contact each other, but we can't," she said. "We are all very worried."
Last year's tragedy prompted the Sherpa guides to complain that their safety was being neglected, but there were no immediate recriminations on Saturday.
"This will definitely have some impact on climbing activity, but this is a natural disaster. No one can do anything," said Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association.
At the Annapurna mountain range, where scores were killed in the nation's worst trekking accident last year, many hikers were stranded after the earthquake, according to messages on social media, but no fatalities had been reported.
Stan Adhikari, who runs the Mountain House lodge in Pokhara near the mountain range, said the city had escaped the worst of the damage. "There hasn't been much damage," Adhikari said.
He said there were about two dozen guests at his lodge, including people from Europe, the United States and China. The road from Pokhara to Kathmandu was not passable but he hoped it would open on Sunday. (Additional reporting by Andrew MacAskill and Rupam Jain Nair; Writing by Andrew MacAskill and Paritosh Bansal; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Mark Bendeich)
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