NEWS

B.C. climber recounts fatal Nepal avalanche

09/26/2012 09:33 EDT | Updated 11/26/2012 05:12 EST
The B.C. mountaineer who was part of the rescue effort after a fatal weekend avalanche on a Nepali mountain says it was the first time he had seen death first-hand.

The avalanche early Sunday morning killed at least eight people, while at least three other people, including Dr. Dominique Ouimet, a cardiologist at a hospital north of Montreal, are still missing.

Greg Hill of Revelstoke was camped on Mount Manaslu at about 6,400 metres. He and his team of German climbers were in their tents when they felt a big blast of wind. They initially thought it was weather moving in, but then they began to hear desperate shouting from the camp a couple hundred metres above them on the mountain.

Stepping from their tents, Hill and his colleagues could see headlamps probing in the dark.

"Right off the bat, we knew something drastic had happened and that their camp spot had been hit by a huge avalanche," Hill told CBC News on Wednesday from Kathmandu in his first television interview.

He and his team assembled their gear and began the ascent to the scene of the slide, arriving within about half an hour. They found a scene of debris: a random boot, and parts of tents and sleeping bags scattered around.

In the time it took Hill and his fellow climbers to reach the scene, some survivors had managed to get themselves out of the snow. Hill and his team focused their efforts on helping those who were partially buried or near the surface.

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"Right off the bat, our decision obviously was that you deal with those that are above the snow, because you can at least help them," he said, "but after about 20 minutes under the snow, those others … you most likely cannot help them."

'Life escapes us so quickly'

Some of the buried victims were not wearing avalanche beacons, which made finding them difficult unless there was evidence of where they were, he said.

"It was definitely the first time I’ve ever witnessed, touched, or moved dead people before, and, yeah, it’s traumatic," Hill said. "Just to see that life escapes us so quickly, and that all of a sudden we become something that’s definitely not human, and, yeah, it’s super sad."

Hill didn't know any of the victims personally, and didn't learn about Ouimet until later.

Many climbing teams had been redirected to Nepal because China had declined to issue climbing permits in Tibet. That meant there were close to 300 climbers on the mountain, plus sherpas.

"I'm somebody who is used to the Selkirk Mountains around Revelstoke, where there’s nobody. And to me, definitely to see that many people … it increases the odds that something drastic is going to happen," he said.

Hill will return home from Kathmandu within days, just in time to celebrate his fourth wedding anniversary.

Another survivor, U.S. extreme skiing icon Glen Plake, was preparing to ascend and ski down Manaslu. He was in his tent when the avalanche hit.

"I was awake in my tent reading my Bible. ... The tent began to shake. We thought it was the wind but in fact it was an avalanche," Plake said Wednesday. "It was like an earthquake; it was like a tsunami."

The slide swept away Plake and his tent. He reportedly suffered bruising and some missing teeth, and is calling himself "probably the luckiest person in the world."

However, Plake's two French climbing companions, Remy George Lecluse and Gregory Ugo Costa, are among the missing.

"You are doing everything you can do because your friends' lives depend on your next action," Plake told reporters. "Unfortunately,everything I did proved to produce nothing. At that point, I had to think about my own life and start preparing."

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