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Report from Base Camp
by Audrey Salkeld
May 16, 1996

First of all, a couple of corrections to the bulletin of 12 May: Andy Harris, the guide of Rob Hall's team who vanished in the vicinity of the South Col camp, is believed to have fallen down the Kangshung Face and not the Lhotse Face, as previously stated. Also, Anatoli Bukreev, who went back up the South East Ridge in the storm to look for Scott Fisher, is of course not a Sherpa, but comes from Kazakhstan. He was acting as a guide with Scott's group. He returned from his mission badly shocked and would say nothing more than that Scott was already dead. Later, in a moving testimony at the memorial puja held yesterday for the five who were lost, Anatoli apologized to his friend for arriving too late.

A bold helicopter airlift on Monday May 13 whisked the two most serious frostbite victims from Camp 1, above the Icefall on Everest (20,000 ft), to hospital in Kathmandu. Seaborn Beck Weathers, whose hands and arms were badly affected and Ming-Ho "Makalu" Gau, with a badly frostbitten nose, was picked up in an army 'Squirrel' helicopter, piloted by Lt. Colonel Madan, K.C. The IMAX team, who had escorted Weathers down from Camp 2 that morning, helped trample out a landing place but were unsure whether it would be visible from the air. Suddenly, Araceli had a bright idea. 'I have a litre of Kool-Aid,' she said, and dribbled a huge red cross in the snow to guide the pilot in.

The story of Beck Weathers' survival, his Lazarus-like rise from the dead, is nothing short of miraculous. He had set off for the summit with the rest of Rob Hall's party before midnight on the 9th, but at some time the next day he abandoned his attempt as he was having difficulty seeing. However, he was also unable to see himself back to camp, and settled in to wait for his companions. Later, he tagged on to returning members from Scott Fisher's group but lost them again as they approached the Col. The last thing he remembers of that night is taking off his gloves and unzipping his jacket to put his cold hands inside.

Around 9 o'clock the next morning (Saturday 11th), at Base Camp we received a radio message that two "bodies" had been found just above Camp 4. One was the dead Japanese woman, Yasuko Nanba, the other Beck, whose "death" had been confirmed by a doctor on the Col. No attempt was made to move either victim. Beck lay lifeless on the ice, facing the sky, for sixteen hours. In the middle of the afternoon Todd Burleson and Pater Athans reached the Col to organize rescue operations. Some time later Todd was inside one of the tents when he looked out to see an apparition approaching. Staggering towards him, arms rigidly outwards like tree limbs was a figure burnt almost black by the sun. His face was swollen and the eyes closed to slits.

Beck had suddenly woken up, gained some impression of what was happening and been overwhelmed with the desire to go on living. He could see nothing but felt the fresh wind blowing and realized it must be coming over the Col. That was the direction in which he needed to go, and he set off into the wind.

Todd could not believe his eyes, and he went out and steered the phantom into the tent and began administering oxygen. He did not, could not, think the man would survive. His hands and arms were frozen to the elbows and he must be chronically hyperthermic. Against all expectations, Beck began slowly to revive. The next day, Todd and Pete began escorting him down the mountain. The party was met at the "Yellow Band" above the Lhotse Face by Robert Schauer and Ed Viesturs of the IMAX team, who took over the escort duty. They were amazed at Beck's fortitude and good humor. He did not complain at all, and fully appreciated his situation. He knew he was doomed to lose both hands-a bitter blow in his career as a pathologist-but he was so grateful to be alive.

When the little party reached Camp 3 where Dave Breashears and Araceli were waiting, they quickly gathered everything together and kept on walking, to arrive at Camp 2 that same night, ready for the evacuation the following morning.

Since the successful airlift, one of the highest aerial rescues ever, the more lightly injured have been treated at Base Camp and many of them helicoptered out also. Several expeditions have packed up and left, or are in the process of leaving. Of those remaining, some, like us, entertain hopes of yet reaching the summit if weather permits. Meteorological forecasts are being sought from a number of sources, while tentative plans are being made to leave Base Camp and head up the mountain for the last time within the next few days. Our members are still all in excellent condition, but the season is fast running out. [The latest spring date Everest has ever been climbed is, I believe, the 29th of May!]

May 27, 1996: Interview with David Breashears
May 24, 1996: They Made It! (Update)
May 20, 1996: They Made It!
May 16, 1996: Emergency on Everest
May 10, 1996: Taiwanese Victim
May 9, 1996
May 5, 1996
May 2, 1996: Team Returns to Base Camp
April 26, 1996
April 25, 1996
April 21, 1996
April 19, 1996

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