A deadly avalanche on Mt. Everest early Friday has killed at least 12 people, all of whom were Nepalese guides preparing routes for other climbers.

"Around 25 persons were swept away by the avalanche. We have rescued eight alive, and 12 bodies have been recovered so far," Dipendra Poudel, an official with the Nepalese mountaineering section, told The Himalayan Times.

At least three of the people injured in the avalanche have been airlifted from the mountain to Katmandu for treatment.

The death toll could rise as high as 14, AFP reported, citing a rescue official on the ground.

The Sherpa, who were members of six different climbing expeditions, had left a Mt. Everest base camp early in the morning to fix ropes and climbing routes on the slopes above.

Six of the guides belonged to the Kathmandu-based climbing company Himalayan Climbing Guides Nepal. Two of the company's guides died and four were missing, AFP reported.

"When our guides left base camp, there was no snowfall, the weather was just fantastic," the climbing group's operations manager, Bhim Paudel, told AFP.

The avalanche occurred around 6:45 a.m. local time at an altitude of about 5,800 meters in an area known as the "popcorn field" which is en route to the treacherous Khumbu icefall.

Dozens of other guides had safely called the icefall before the avalanche occurred,

The avalanche is the single deadliest incident in the history of mountaineering on the world's highest peak, according to Elizabeth Hawley, who is considered the world's leading authority on Himalayan climbing.

"This is the absolutely the worst disaster on Everest, no question," Hawley told AFP.

In 1996 an Everest snowstorm caused the deaths of eight climbers, and in 1970 an avalanche caused the death of six Nepalese guides.

More than 4,000 climbers have reached the 8,850-meter (29,035-foot) summit of Mt. Everest since 1953, when New Zealander Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the first to conquer it.

Hundreds have died attempting to reach the peak over the years.