Final moments of tragic Everest team climb revealed

May 25, 2016 10:00 am

Australian climber Dr Robert Gropels who was rescued from Mount Everest sits in his hotel room in Kathmandu. His wife Dr Maria Strydom, 34, died near the top. Photo / AP

The final moments of a tragic Mt Everest team climb have been revealed by the expedition leader, who said the deaths of an Australian woman and Dutch man occurred unexpectedly during a “perfect looking summit push”.
Following criticism from family members about the lack of contact from the tour operators, Arnold Coster, the leader of the ill-fated climb, gave a detailed account of the disaster.
He said Eric Arnold, 36, and Dr Maria Strydom, 34, fell ill separately after ascending beyond the 8000m mark, known as the “death zone” because of its treacherous terrain and thin air.
Arnold, a Dutch triathlete, died during the descent after reaching the summit.
Strydom, an Australian academic, turned around earlier due to altitude sickness but failed to make it to a helicopter evacuation zone and died holding her husband’s hand.

“Eric summited Mt Everest on 20 May 8am and fulfilled his childhood dream,” he said in a Facebook post.In a statement on Facebook, Coster, who runs Arnold Coster Expeditions, insisted that “all went according to plan” during the ascent and the sudden deterioration of the conditions of the two team members was unexpected.
“Descending from the summit he became slower and slower and it became clear that something was wrong… We managed to bring him down to the South Col in a reasonable time; he looked beaten, but mentally fine… It looked like he was recovering. Unexpectedly Eric passed away that evening in his tent accompanied by a member and Sherpa in his tent.”
Coster said Strydom turned around on the South Summit and her condition “deteriorated rapidly” as she struggled to move and became “very confused”.
“Her husband and several Sherpas struggled all night to bring her down and miraculously she made it back to the South Col 2am that night, after spending 31 hours above the camp,” he wrote.
“We managed to stabilise her that night with Medicine & Oxygen and Marisa was able to walk out of the tent herself the next morning.
“Helicopter rescue is only possible from Camp 3, so we continued our descent the next morning. Marisa was able to walk herself, but 2 hours out of camp she collapsed on the ‘Geneva Spur’. Her Husband tried to retrieve her, but this was not possible anymore.”
Dr Robert Gropel, Strydom’s husband, also suffered altitude sickness during the climb and has been released from a hospital in Kathmandu.
During a separate climb this week, Subhash Pal, an Indian mountaineer, died after reaching the 8848m summit; two of his team-mate remain missing.
Maritha Strydom, Strydom’s mother, criticised Coster’s firm and Seven Summit Treks, another company involved, questioning their failure to contact evacuation authorities or to inform families about the tragedy.
“Your satellite phone and Maya’s phones were off too,” she said in response to Coster’s Facebook post.
“Why wasn’t the emergency evacuation ever contacted for Marisa? Global rescue spend numerous hours locating all reported emergencies and evacuees. Marisa was not amongst them. We never had any, but any contact from anyone from your company, now, almost 48 hours after my daughters death. I want her body back.”
The company is reportedly attempting to arrange a recovery of the bodies, which remain around the 8000m mark.
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