KATHMANDU, Nepal (CNN) -- A high-altitude avalanche Friday killed at least 12 Sherpa guides and seriously wounded three in the single deadliest accident on Mount Everest, officials said.
Several others are missing, but their numbers were not immediately known.
A group of about 50 people, mostly Nepali Sherpas, were hit by the avalanche at more than 20,000 feet, said Tilak Ram Pandey of the mountaineering department of the Tourism Ministry.
The avalanche took place just above base camp in the Khumbu Ice Fall.
The climbers were accounted for, Pandey said. "Rescue teams have gone ... to look for the missing."
Before Friday, the deadliest single-day toll was from an accident in May 1996, when eight climbers disappeared when a huge storm hit. Their tragic story was chronicled in Jon Krakauer's bestselling book "Into Thin Air."
Readying for the climb
Between May 15 and 30 is usually the best window for reaching the 29,028-foot peak.
Climbers and guides had been setting the ropes for the route, acclimating to the climate and preparing the camps along the route when the avalanche hit Friday, said Gordon Janow with Alpine Ascents International in Seattle.
Climbers arrive in April to acclimate to the altitude before heading toward the summit of the world's highest mountain.
Ethnic Sherpas acts as guides for the mostly foreign clients.
The spring climbing season is the busiest of the year.
About 334 foreign climbers have been given permission to climb Everest over the next couple of months, with an estimated 400 Sherpas helping them, mountaineering official Dipendra Poudel said.
Until the late 1970s, only a handful of climbers reached the top each year. The number topped 100 for the first time in 1993. By 2004, it was more than 300. In 2012, the number was more than 500.
The deadliest year on Everest was 1996, when 15 people died. Another 12 climbers were killed in 2006.