Newsletter 1827 April 2010
Concerted Rescue Efforts Show Success on Lobuje East
Sunday was a full-on day for the Himex team with the day starting off with a serac collapse in the Khumbu Icefall, which fortunately did not cause any injuries or affected anybody directly, even though dozens of Sherpas were on their way to Camp 2. At around 4.30am, both Russell and ‘Narly’, one of the Himex guides who was ‘on call’ that day, noticed an increase in the radio traffic.
It became clear pretty quickly that something had happened in the icefall and when Russell and Ang Jangbu from IMG tried to establish radio contact with other teams, however, no other teams responded. After about 45 minutes of back and forth, the two teams established that nobody was hurt and that the Sherpas, who were moving through the icefall, where either above or below the place where the ice blocks had collapsed. “It was very frustrating that we could not talk to anyone else on the radio as we really needed more information on who was in the icefall. It is amazing to see that there is thousands of dollars worth of communications equipment talking to the outside world, but there is very little effort put into establishing reliable local communication for safety,” Russell, who always has his radio on 24 hours a day, said. The Sherpas, who were below the collapse, re-established the route pretty quickly as they wanted to continue to get their loads to Camp 2.
After having been up at the crack of dawn, Russell and Narly went to the kitchen tent to have a hot drink to warm up as it was bitterly cold that morning. At 8.00am Russell received the next radio call from the acclimatisation team on Lobuje East, telling him that Nabil Al Busaidi, a Himex member from Oman, had taken a fall on his descent from the top and had sprained or even broken his ankle. “I had already been at crampon point when Nabil got in touch telling me that he had fallen and was in excruciating pain,” Adrian Ballinger, the guide who was with the team, said. When Adrian went back up to Nabil’s rescue, the injured man, who was still lying upside down, could obviously not bear weight on either of his legs. “It was obvious that Nabil would be unable to walk down to Lobuje Camp himself and that he had to be carried down,” Adrian said. “We knew it was going to be a really long day with a lot of hard work for everyone involved.”
Fortunately, Himex’s Sirdar Phurba Tashi was on the mountain and quickly came to assist. The place where Nabil had fallen was still high on the mountain at about 5,650m, and Adrian and two Sherpas took about one hour to carry Nabil about 100 metres to crampon point. From there Phurba Tashi volunteered to single-handedly carry the Omani climber on his back by using a ‘rope bucket’, which is made of 60m of rope. While Phurba was carrying Nabil to moraine camp (5,300m), he actually overtook two commercial teams edging their way down the mountain. “It was amazing to see Phurba piggy-backing someone who is probably almost one-and-a-half times his weight,” Adrian said. In the meantime, the other Sherpas and guide Johnny carried heavy loads off the mountain as all camps and fixed ropes had to be removed.
Once at moraine camp, the team decided that a rescue from Lobuje would be easier and that Nabil had to be carried across the difficult terrain of huge boulders. Pemba, who has become famous for carrying the very heavy generator to base camp, took over from Phurba Tashi. “Compared to the generator, Nabil is pretty light,” a smiling Pemba said. While all this was happening on Lobuje East, Russell and his team at Everest base camp were coordinating a helicopter rescue, which seemed rather difficult as the weather had closed in and the winds had picked up by that time. Russell was in constant contact with his office in Kathmandu and Pemba, the pilot, and together they were convinced that they could pull this off, which became increasingly necessary with Nabil being in more and more pain.
Rescue efforts and physiotherapy
In the meantime, Dorin Baciu from Romania, who had been suffering from sciatica for the past week and had been unable to acclimatise at Lobuje East, was receiving physiotherapy from Mike Roberts at Everest base camp. Apart from being a mountain guide for the New Zealand outfitter Adventure Consultants, Mike is also a very proficient physiotherapist. He had been kind enough to visit Dorin on his days off and give him treatment. “Just watching Mike shows that he is a very accomplished physiotherapist,” Himex’s doctor Monica said. “I think Dorin is receiving the best physiotherapy he could get anywhere in the world,” she continued. Despite the excellent treatment from Mike, Dorin’s pain did not go away and it became more and more unlikely that he would be able to climb Mount Everest. However, what amazed me was that Dorin kept a brave face all the way through his discomfort and never lost hope that he might be able to achieve his dream of climbing Everest. “Maybe I can go to a hospital in Kathmandu, where I can get an injection that will solve the problem,” he kept on telling me.
Once it was clear that the helicopter would come to pick up Nabil despite the bad weather that was moving in, Mike, Monica and Russell talked to Dorin and they agreed that he would be better off hitching a ride to the Nepalese capital. At about 4pm we heard the rotating engines of the helicopter and we knew that the two patients would be taken to Kathmandu, where they would receive good treatment for their ailments. Himex’s Tamding and Chuldim picked them up from the airport and took them immediately to the clinic and the Hotel Tibet. “I received an email from my office telling me that Nabil’s ankle is sprained, which definitely means the end of his expedition,” Russell said. As far as Dorin is concerned, we are also not expecting him back here at base camp, and we shall miss both members of the team.
“Considering that Nabil actually arrived in Kathmandu about nine hours after his accident happened high up on Lobuje Peak is actually amazing,” said Russell. “This quick rescue has shown, once again, how concerted efforts and teamwork on the mountain can prevent further injuries and agony,” he concluded.