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Death Zone at Mt Everest’s descent

Five Indians missing, 1 Indian, 1 Australian and 1 Dutch dead; while youngest Australian scales Mt Everest

Kathmandu, May 22: Five Indian climbers attempting to scale the world’s tallest peak, Mount Everest in Nepal, have gone missing, Nepal Police said on Sunday.

Everest is in Solukhumbu district of Nepal.

They were reported missing since Saturday morning while attempting to climb the towering 8,848-metre-peak, said Solukhumbu District Superintendent of Police Madhav Prasad Budathoki.

The Indian climbers went missing when they were at a height of 8,000 metres.

For Melbourne’s Monash University lecturer Maria Strydom, 34, tragedy struck as she with her husband, Melbourne vet Robert Gropel; was only some hundred metres away from the world’s greatest heights.

After a month of trekking and reaching Camp Four – only 400 metres from the peak, mood was upbeat, as their online postings revealed.

Yet the altitude’s treacherous conditions, low-oxygen and already stretched body’s capacity meant that the last few metres had to be tackled rapidly.

Maria had been battling illness before the final trek, yet she strong willed herself to carry on with her group and they set out in the cover of darkness.

“They will set out approximately 10pm local time and will have to contend with darkness, lack of oxygen, the infamous Hillary step and a race against time…” – a post online from Dr Gropel’s veterinary practice revealed.

But scaling Everest was not to be – Maria was forced to turn back after severe altitude sickness. Oxygen starved and battling frostbite and immensely low-pressures, Maria was guided down the “Death Zone”.

The death zone is equivalent to the cruising altitude of a 747 – the air is so thin that even with supplemental oxygen every minute spent above 26,000 feet – in what’s known as the Death Zone; you’re basically dying.

The human brain becomes confused and even small movements require Herculean efforts.

That was where Maria stopped breathing and simply gave up on her weak body, said Furtengi Sherpa, the Operational Manager of Seven Summit Treks.

Although, “there was enough oxygen for her to continue back around altitude of 7800 metres,” her body gave up as she descended the peak reportedly suffering a stroke and snow blindness.

Her husband Dr Gropel is fighting against a build up of fluid in his lungs suffering from high altitude pulmonary oedema. He may soon be transported back to Melbourne from Kathmandu.

34 year old Maria was an academic in banking and finance and “The Monash University community is deeply saddened by the tragic news of the loss of Dr Strydom on Mount Everest,” the university said in a statement.

Dr Maria and her husband Dr Gropel were passionate vegan campaigners and aiming to scale the Everest was to challenge diet’s stereotypes.

Another mountaineer, Dutch man Eric Arnold, also passed away during the descent, telling his teammates “my body has no energy left,” and died in his sleep, according to Dutch news agency ANP.

From the Dutch city of Rotterdam, Eric noted on facebook that this was his fifth attempt at reaching the Everest summit. He died at Camp Four on Friday, according to Seven Summit Treks.

Ironically, on the same day Queenslander Alyssa Azar succeeded in her bid to become the youngest Australian in history to climb Mount Everest.

Alyssa Azar at the base of 800 metres climb to the Summit@facebook
Alyssa Azar at the base of 800 metres climb to the Summit@facebook

The 19 year old from Toowoomba, was hailed as ‘an inspiration’ by Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk after she scaled Everest on her third attempt on Saturday, leaving camp early morning, for the final climb of about 800 metres to the summit.

But her trainer Chase Tucker of Big Mountain Training said Ms Azar’s expedition wasn’t over and the most dangerous part of climbing Everest was the days-long ordeal to climb back down – referring to the Death Zone.

Earlier, seasoned Indian mountaineer Rajib Bhattacharya died while descending from the summit of Mount Dhaulagiri, which at 8,167 metres is the world’s seventh highest mountain.

A resident of West Bengal, India, he lost his life after complaining of snow blindness, according to Pemba Sherpa, manager at the Seven Summit Treks.

Bhattacharya had climbed Mount Everest in 2011 and Mount Kanchenjunga in 2013.

Mount Dhaulagiri had witnessed its first summit of the season after four foreigners and a Sherpa guide, locally managed by Seven Summit Treks, made it to the top of the peak.

The two fatalities are the first deaths on the world’s highest peak since the avalanche killed 22 climbers last year, during the devastating earthquake.

Nepal’s tourism and mountaineering community, still recovering from the past disasters may be stricken again from these fatalities.

Nidhi Mehta

feature image : Maria Strydom and husband Robert Grope @Facebook

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