Columbia woman survives 3 days on volcano ledge


January 24, 1991|By Michael J. Clark | Michael J. Clark,Howard County Bureau of The Sun

While she was trapped without food or water for three days, in freezing rain and heavy fog on a mountainside in Ecuador, Elizabeth "Kim" Brady of Columbia had only one thought: "I just did not want to die up there."

"I came pretty close to meeting my maker," the 33-year-old computer systems analyst said this week from a hospital bed in the city of Quito, where she is recovering from badly bruised legs, swollen hands, hypothermia, exhaustion, hunger and thirst.

Ms. Brady was plucked Sunday from a ledge overlooking a 200-foot drop-off in a ravine, on an inactive volcano near Quito called Pichincha, where she had been praying and fighting to stay awake since Friday afternoon.

A rescue team found her on the 15,173-foot volcano after her hiking companion, Robert Elion, a lawyer from Williamsport, Pa., managed to climb out and get help Sunday morning.

The couple had been dressed casually for a taxi ride up the volcanic peak Friday morning to enjoy the view. Both got hurt as they hiked down the mountain that afternoon.

"We were three-fourths the way down the mountain, and Bob, who was in front, fell 20 feet, breaking two of his ribs," said Ms. Brady. She got injured herself when a big boulder she was resting against rolled over her.

The injuries left the two of them battered, in pain and stuck on the side of the fog-enshrouded mountain.

"We had no rain gear, and it got below 30 degrees and rained all night. We started to get hypothermia," said Ms. Brady.

"It was dark and we were injured, so we decided to try and sleep and get up the next day, hoping people would come look for us," she said.

The next day, the stranded couple decided to try and climb out of the ravine, but Ms. Brady was unable to make the effort. "I was too shaky from the hypothermia and I was affected by the altitude," she said. "I just did not have the strength to get out."

Despite the pain from his broken ribs, Mr. Elion managed to make it out of the steep gully late Saturday afternoon.

However, he collapsed higher up the mountainside and spent the night in the cold rain, mustering enough strength the next morning to get off the mountain and find help.

Meanwhile, Ms. Brady spent her night "praying and walking back and forth to keep from going to sleep," fearing that she might die if she nodded off. "I had nothing to eat or drink and I was hallucinating, seeing faces appear before my eyes," she said.

A four-member rescue team managed to find her on the mountainsideabout 4 p.m. Sunday.

As she clung to the thick grass and stunted trees on the ledge, Ms. Brady said, she heard a voice call out. "They brought clothing for me . . . and chocolate," she said. "They helped me back up the mountain, where an ambulance was waiting. I was totally dehydrated."

That night, she was admitted to an intensive care unit at Quito's Metropolitan Hospital.

After she gets out of the hospital this week, she said, she hopes to visit the Galapagos Islands and then return to her home to Columbia Jan. 29.

"The rescuers said it was amazing that we survived," said Ms. Brady. "It was just our determination not to give up."

The rescuers reported during the search that at times it was "so foggy they could not see their hands in front of their face," said Carmen Martinez, chief of the consulate at the U.S. Embassy in Ecuador. "It was a close call."

Ms. Brady's mother, Elizabeth "Sally" Brady, who lives with her daughter in a town house on Blue February Way in Columbia, said she was notified of Kim's disappearance Saturday morning. The tour company called to say that her daughter was missing and that it had contacted Quito police and the Red Cross.

"I felt numb, just plain numb," said the mother, adding that she had contacted friends who participated in "prayer chains" on her daughter's behalf.

Sunday morning, her anxiety was temporarily relieved after the consulate called to say that, based on a Red Cross report, her daughter evidently had been found with a broken leg and was in the hospital.

However, it turned out to be a false alarm. Only Mr. Elion had gotten off the mountain at that point, and he called Mrs. Brady from a hospital bed to reassure her.

He said that he had "given up" at one point when they were trapped in the ravine but that he was encouraged to press on by Ms. Brady, who told him "we have to leave today or we won't survive another night."

Mr. Elion told the mother that he had "never known a more courageous and tenacious person with such a strong will to live" and said her daughter was an inspiration that helped him get moving despite the pain.

When the consulate called Mrs. Brady back later Sunday morning to say her daughter had not been found yet, she was moved "to get really concerned and call the prayer chains back."

She even call a psychic, who said her daughter was "very resourceful and help was on the way."

Late Sunday night, her prayers were answered. Ms. Martinez, the chief of the consulate section of the U.S. Embassy, called Kim Brady's mother again.

"It is real this time," the envoy said. "I have seen her."

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