4 stricken near summit of Everest are rescued

Warner of Maryland helps get them down

blind man reaches top

May 26, 2001|By Candus Thomson | Candus Thomson,SUN STAFF

An international team of climbers completed the highest-ever rescue of victims from the dangerous north side of Mount Everest yesterday.

The four stricken climbers --- an American and a Guatemalan from one expedition and two Russians from another team - were moved down to a lower altitude where they are being treated.

The rescue mission began overnight Wednesday just below the 29,035-foot summit and played out on the ice and crumbling rocks as guides, Sherpas and clients formed a human chain to ferry supplies and fresh manpower to the effort.

Rescuers overcame minus-30-degree temperatures, thin air and their own depleted energy reserves to lower and drag the climbers to safety. Six climbers gave up their summit bids to join in the rescue of the others, who were suffering from various high-altitude problems.

Baltimore County resident Joyce Warner, whose husband, Chris, reached the summit Wednesday and then took part in the rescue, spoke to him yesterday morning.

"I said to him, `The reports were so confusing. It looked like some of you were dead or all of you were dead,'" she said. "He said to me, `You know what? That was all true at one point or another.'"

Joyce Warner said that after their more than two days without sleep, "it's still surreal" for the rescuers, with most "very emotional and still not knowing where they are."

The rescued American climber, Andy Lapkiss, called his girlfriend by satellite phone from Advance Base Camp at 21,400 feet to reassure her.

"I love you. I am not dead," the exhausted climber told Abbie Cobb.

Then Lapkiss proposed marriage, and Cobb said yes.

The Guatemalan, Jaime Vinals, suffered near-fatal brain swelling and lost 50 pounds during the two months it took to set up camps and climb the mountain. He told a Guatemalan radio station that it will take him three months to recover.

Meanwhile, veteran mountaineer Erik Weihenmayer, sponsored by the National Federation of the Blind in Baltimore, became the first sightless man to reach the summit. He followed the sounds of bells attached to the jackets of climbing partners to reach the top at 1 a.m. EDT yesterday.

A member of the same expedition, Sherman Bull, a doctor from New Canaan, Conn., became, at 64, the oldest to reach the summit.

Another expedition, run by the Nepal Mountaineering Association, said yesterday that it has removed more than four tons of garbage from the mountain this season and will return next year to bring down climbers' bodies.

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