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Blizzard hampers rescue

Thursday, May 26th, 2016
Maria Styrdom with her husband Robert Gropel. Stardom died on Sunday high on Mt Everest of altitude sickness. Photo: AAP/Monash University

Maria Styrdom with her husband Robert Gropel. Stardom died on Sunday high on Mt Everest of altitude sickness. Photo: AAP/Monash University

Hannah Gee

Despite a season that saw record numbers of climbers reaching the top of Mt Everest, heavy blizzards are making the work of rescuing sick mountaineers and retrieving the bodies of some of the six mountaineers who died difficult.

Tuesday was the last official climbing day of the spring mountaineering season, and the world’s highest mountains has been battered by severe pre-monsoon storms after two weeks of clear weather during which a record 400 climbers from 34 countries reached the summit at 8,848m from the Nepal side.

There was heavy pressure to climb Mt Everest this year because it was closed for two years after an avalanche in 2014 that killed 16 Nepali guides on the Icefall and another big avalanche triggered by the 25 April 2015 earthquake that killed 18 people at Base Camp.

Fourteen Nepali guides are trying to bring down the body of Australian climber Maria Strydom, 34, who died of altitude sickness on Sunday. Her husband, Robert Gropel, is also not well, but is determined to bring his wife’s body back to Australia despite the costs involved. Helicopters that were supposed to rescue them have not been able to go up the mountain because of blizzards.

A helicopter operator said the heavy snow meant that the recovery mission will take longer. “Snowing makes recovering the body difficult,” he said, “the Sherpas will have to carry their own gear as well as her body. It is no mean feat.”

Strydom’s body lies at Camp III at 7,200m, and Gropel is said to be determined to bring her body home. The Melbourne-based academic was a seasoned and experienced climber who had already summited several of the world’s highest peaks.

The group’s ascent went without incident until Strydom reached what is known as the ‘Balcony’ on the southeast summit ridge of Mt Everest at around 8,400m where she fell ill. She was able to descend back to the South Col at 7,900m, where it appeared she was making a recovery. Strydom recommenced her descent, but succumbed to her illness at 7,800m and died.

The body of Dutch national Eric Arnold who was from the same expedition, and died on 21 May is expected to be brought to Kathmandu airport on Thursday afternoon.

The Australian Embassy in Kathmandu is providing consular assistance to the return of Strydom’s body to Australia. Financial aid has been granted to Gropel, as family back in Australia scramble to raise the required total to fund the rescue operation.

(Hannah Gee is a journalism student at the Western Sydney University.)

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