Sunday 23 October 2016

Irishman who cheated death on Everest airlifted home but vows to return next year

THE Irishman who cheated death on Mount Everest last weekend is being medically evacuated from Nepal today – but has vowed to return next year to climb the world’s highest mountain despite his extensive injuries.

Paul Greenan (38), who runs a plant hire business in Dublin, has described for the first time the terrifying avalanche that swept through base camp on Everest in the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal.

A total of 18 people died in the avalanche, including another member of Mr Greenan’s team. Mr Greenan suffered extensive injuries and required three helicopters and a plane to get him back to Kathmandu – and he is only well enough to be medically evacuated today.

“It’s not that we were buried in snow. By the time the avalanche hit us it had lost an awful lot of power so it was largely rocks being thrown at us like missiles,” Mr Greenan, from Shankill, told Independent.ie from his hospital bed in Cewic Clinic in Kathmandu this morning.

“I think half the base camp was just decimated. Every tent was gone, all our equipment was gone. There were people walking around dazed, it was like some sort of doomsday thing, not knowing where they were.

“There were a huge amount of injuries – I think 70 people were injured, I don’t know the final death figure.”

From Everest, that currently stands at 18.

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The avalanche hit base camp at around midday – and the climbers there had merely seconds to run for cover.

Mr Greenan was part of a commercial expedition run by the British adventure company Jagged Globe.

“We’d been in base camp for about a week and a half,” he said.

“We had gone to camp one, come back down and we were having a rest day when the avalanche came down and took us all out.

“We were just lying in the tents when we felt a tremor coming through. So we got up out of the tent and saw this mountain coming at us

“It was about midday on Saturday

READ MORE: 'I saw an American climber standing over the dead body of his girlfriend'

“The avalanche hitting you is like a wave. It starts off gently then it’s more and more. It’s not unlike a meteorite coming at you.

“The top fell off the mountain, the snow I mean. And as soon as it hit ground level it started to pick up rock and by the time it got to us it was hurtling rocks of all sizes at us.

“We didn’t even have time to be scared.

“We’d seen avalanches all week long and they normally run out of steam before they hit base camp, but this was different. As soon as it hit the deck, we knew we had to run – but we only had about five seconds from that point.

“There was about 10 of us who had got out of our individual tents. We were all lined up in a line, and we just scattered and ran, and hid behind rocks and took cover as best we could.”

The avalanche hit hard, and Mr Greenan unsurprisingly cannot remember the exact details of what happened.

“I was the worst injured – two others in the group got minor injuries – but there was an American fella in the group about five metres up from me who either hit a rock, or a rock hit him, and killed him.

“I don’t know if it was instantaneous. I didn’t see him – I just heard what happened afterwards.”

The American man has since been named as Google executive Dan Friedinburg

Getting Mr Greenan and another badly injured member of the Jagged Globe group off the mountain was a massive undertaking.

“It took me about 30 hours from the avalanche to get to Kathmandu,” he said. 

“It took me three helicopters and a plane to get down here. I had to be stretchered everywhere – I can’t move, I have to be in this position so, as you can imagine, stretchering someone down trails and so on is extremely difficult.

“I arrived here in a pair of boxer shorts, and that’s it. I’ve lost everything else I brought up the mountain.”

His injuries are extensive, and he remained in considerable discomfort as a Norwegian medical team prepared to fly him to Baku in Azerbaijan where an Irish plane is due to meet him and bring him home.

“My elbow was dislocated and replaced three times, my hand is broken, six broken ribs, my pelvis is shattered, and there’s plenty of cuts and bruises and there is some big tube coming out of my chest to release air,” he said.

But Mr Greenan – who has completed three of the ‘seven summits’ challenge in world mountaineering – was adamant that he will not be deterred by his near-death experience.

“This year I had nine climbers on my team. Seven of them had been here last year and they came back to do it again. A few of them will be back next year to do it again, and I’ll be joining them I think,” he said.

“This is a natural disaster. It could have happened anywhere in the world. When people have their eyes set on Everest, nothing will stop them until they get to the top.

“In the words of Homer Simpson, ‘It’s my new lifelong dream’,” he laughed.

His family – including partner Louise – may yet have something to say on that.

“At the time of the avalanche there was obviously very little mobile network so it was about 40 hours before I got through to them and that was difficult for everyone,” he said.

“But they’ve been wonderful.”

Most of the rest of the team remain on the mountain, trying to get down. They are set to ‘walk out’ of the mountain rather than use the incredibly clogged and tiny airport on the mountain. It will take them another four days or so.

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