Dying friend saved me, says climber

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The Independent Online
A CLIMBER WHO saw his friend die of hypothermia as they lay stranded together on a mountain ridge for six days, said yesterday that he owed his life to his companion.

Jamie Andrew, who suffered severe frostbite in all his limbs, was plucked by helicopter from a ridge on Les Droites, in the Mont Blanc range on Sunday.

Mr Andrew's friend, Jamie Fisher, 28, died in the freezing temperatures.

Speaking from his hospital bed for the first time since his ordeal, Mr Andrew, 29, said: "The one thing that kept us going was our friendship.

"We buoyed each other up. On several occasions we had to keep each other going to survive. Sadly, only I made it."

Mr Andrew, who may have to have parts of his fingers, ears, and toes amputated, was too ill to speak before yesterday.

His father, Howard, who flew out from the family's home in Glasgow to be at his son's bedside in Chamonix, said that his son had been either fully asleep or drowsy for most of the week.

But yesterday he had recovered enough to talk to the Daily Record about the accident and said he was not afraid of amputation. "The loss of my friend is far sadder to me than any injury that I have sustained myself. I am not a hero. If anything I am slightly tough. I wanted to get out alive. There is nothing heroic about that."

The two men, who shared a flat in Edinburgh, set off from Chamonix in eastern France 12 days ago. Their aim was to tackle the Droites peak, in the Mont Blanc range.

They were forced to halt on the 13,000ft ridge when they became trapped in a sudden storm which blew up as they tried to descend from the mountain. The men, both experienced climbers, dug a snowhole under their bivouac as temperatures fell to minus 30C and 20ft snow drifts built up.

The alarm was raised in Chamonix but when rescuers attempted to reach the climbers by air, winds gusting at 85mph or more pushed their aircraft back.

Finally the weather improved enough for a close approach and a wire was lowered from a helicopter to the mountain ridge and Mr Andrew and his friend's body were flown off.

Mr Andrew, an engineer who works in the North Sea oil industry, said yesterday that he had not expected to survive the ordeal and praised his rescuers. "The rescue services were incredible. They were totally magnificent and it is a miracle that they managed to get me off at all. They managed an incredible job.

"The conditions were unexpectedly bad. I have never experienced anything as bad for so long. It just didn't stop. There was nothing we could do except wait for help to arrive."

Mr Andrew said he did not know if he would be able to climb again but vowed to remain active whatever happened.

The two men were regarded as two of Scotland's best climbers and had tackled routes previously thought to be unattainable.

Mr Fisher, who has two brothers, was a care worker with the charity Barnardo's in Edinburgh and, like Mr Andrew, was a former president of the University of Edinburgh mountaineering club.

Doctors at Chamonix Hospital, who have dealt with similar cases of serious frostbite, are hoping to save Mr Andrew's blackened hands and feet. But he must wait for a few more days before the full extent of his injuries can be assessed.

"It's a very long process," Mr Andrew said. "I am not trying to deceive myself about the extent of my injuries.

"I know they are bad and I know there are still major hurdles to overcome.

"I've got an awful lot of treatment to undergo. I've got very severe frostbite in all four of my limbs and I am still fairly numb. I am not in much pain but I can tell it is going to be a very long process. I can't say I am making a recovery apart from the fact that I have thawed out."