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Survivor: 'I thought the summit was crashing; it all happened in 10 seconds'

By Laxmi Negi
April 29, 2015 12:03 IST
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For over two decades, Breeze Sharma dreamt of conquering the Everest. And when it did come true, he was staring at a life and death situation.

Ever since he first conquered Mount Nanda Kot in Uttarakhand in 1997, the former naval officer from Mumbai has been on 23 summits.

In April this year, Sharma set off on a mission to climb the Everest and the Lhotse (the fourth highest mountain in the world at 8,516 metres).

Lhotse was his first destination. Breeze was to embark on an acclimatisation climb on May 24 night from the Everest Base Camp to Camp 1. However, bad weather forced them to abandon the trek and instead set out for a glacier walk.

And that's when all hell broke loose, he tells Laxmi Negi/

Image: Breeze Sharma covers himself with remains of a broken tent in freezing conditions at the Everest Base Camp. Photo Courtesy: Breeze Sharma

The big bang

I was at the Everest Base Camp. Due to bad weather, we could not go further. The base camp stretches to almost two kilometers and, therefore, I decided to go for a walk near the glaciers. I was returning (to the base camp) with a friend.

The EBC was just a kilometre away, but from the south of Everest we could see the avalanche. Since I was walking I could not feel the tremors, but suddenly I heard a big bang.

I thought the summit was crashing; it all happened in 10 seconds.

I was near Tumari peak, which just came crashing down. I saw a volcano of grey dust particles. We were trying to take shelter, but there was nowhere to hide.

Image: Rescue operations at the Everest Base Camp post the avalanche. Photo Courtesy: Breeze Sharma

Miraculous escape

I knew that in case of avalanches one needs to lie flat on the ground. I did so. There was debris flying all over. I saw four or five bodies being flung in the air (by the force of the avalanche).

Suddenly a tent cover fell on top of me from nowhere. I felt as if someone had covered me with a blanket.

The avalanche lasted for almost three minutes. Those were the longest and toughest three minutes of my life.

I continued to follow breathing techniques. After the ordeal, it was difficult to get up because I was covered with snow, stones and debris.

I got up unhurt 10 minutes later, but my friend was hurt. He had been hit by a stone. I managed to take him with me to the base camp, which was completely in a shambles.

There were tent covers and equipment strewn over a radius of 200 metres. The avalanche had destroyed 70 per cent of the base camp. Only two-three tents were intact and my tent was one of them.

Image: A glimpse of the Everest Base Camp levelled to the ground by the avalanche. Photo Courtesy: Breeze Sharma

Rescue mission

A lot of people were injured because they did not know what had to be done in case of an avalanche. All they had to do was lie flat on the surface.

As soon as I reached the camp I started helping out in the rescue mission, as I am trained to do so.

There were over 30 dead and 80 injured and we started giving first aid and other medical facilities by 2 pm. We could not do much because most of the injuries were serious; some were fractures.

The long and eventful day ended by 9 pm.

I spent the night outside my tent because there were four dead bodies in there. In the freezing temperature, the going was really getting tougher.

Next day, at 5.30 am, the injured were shifted to Gorak Shep (the final acclimatisation stop on most treks to Everest Base Camp from Lukla). I too helped in shifting the injured to the choppers. By noon the rescue mission was over.

Still feeling the tremors

I don’t know how I will spend the rest of the nights here.

The Everest Base Camp is situated on a glacier, which is unstable and its land movement is around one metre.

Even when I sleep, I can feel the earth beneath me shake. Don’t know whether it is the earthquake or the glacier moving.

Image: The avalanche destroyed 70 per cent of the base camp. Photo Courtesy: Breeze Sharma

Stuck at the Everest Base Camp

We are almost 200 people here at the base camp, trying to get in touch with the Nepal government. There is no official authority here.

We have been trying to call them, but nobody seems to respond. Sometimes they disconnect the calls.

Luckily, all Indian mountaineers are safe and we all are staying together.

We cannot descent from the EBC because the next stop is Gorak Shek. All the mountaineers are there. They cannot go down further because all the bridges are broken.

Everest has ignored me

I have waited 21 years to get here, but today, I am in a situation of life and death. No one is thinking of scaling the summit.

I can surely try the next time or may be the third time. But for now, I wish and pray for a safe life.

As told to Laxmi Negi/

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Laxmi Negi / in Mumbai
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