Phone call at 5,000ft saves trekkers' lives

Rescue in the Himalayas: British students are airlifted to safety as 40 die in avalanches
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The Independent Online

Two British students caught in one of Nepal's worst series of avalanche disasters were saved after finding an abandoned radio telephone in snows that have killed more than 40 people.

The students, Charles Wright and James Ryan, both 22, who found the radio telephone beside a dead Japanese tourist, telephoned their parents from Kathmandu to tell of their helicopter rescue from the avalanche near Mount Everest, after contacting the rescue base. They had been part of a trek in which 26 people died.

Their families had feared they were dead. "My hand was trembling when I realised it was my brother and he was okay," said Tanja Wright, 23, Charles's sister, at the family home in Barnby, Suffolk. "It still hasn't hit us that he's alive and that we almost lost him. They could not believe it when they found the radio was working. It saved their lives."

Mr Wright and Mr Ryan found the radio beside the dead man after struggling through up to 6ft of snow and rubble for three hours. Thirteen Japanese tourists died in the disaster.

When when the avalanche struck the two Britons were 5,500ft up in the mountains and had run out of food. "If it had not been for the radio they might not have survived.

"He [Charles] told me they were stuck in this hut for two days and nights as the snow fell outside," said Miss Wright. "They could easily have died of starvation or hypothermia."

Mr Wright, who celebrated his 22nd birthday in Nepal, was on his way to Australia after graduating from university.

Mr Ryan, from Huddersfield, West Yorkshire, joined him for the seven- week trek in the mountains.

A former pupil of Millfield School who studied European Studies and German at university, Mr Ryan was described by his father as "fit as a flea".

He added: "He skis a lot and he has been going to mountains since he was five-years-old so he knows what he is doing."

Helicopters rescued another 477 people from the mountains yesterday, including 177 foreigners, nine of them British. Most were found in the Everest area, where the avalanches hit hardest.

A government spokesman in Nepal said they were the worst avalanches they had known. "This is the first time that such a large trekking area has been hit by disaster," said Prachanda Man Shrestha.

Among those who died was Mary Harkins, in her thirties, from Leighlinbridge, Co Carlow, Ireland. She was in a party of eight trekkers who died in an avalanche in the foothills of the Annapurna mountains, 250 miles from Kathmandu.

Ms Harkins, a nurse and keen traveller, had been on holiday with her Canadian fiance, Mitch Harper. A further 17 people are believed to have died in avalanches in the Manang region, where she died, including two Canadians and a German.

Drama in the shadow of Everest

n Students were trekking at a height of 5,500ft

n After two days and nights of heavy snowfall, they walked back to base to get rescue. It had been destroyed by snow

n They walked to next base. On the way, they found the bodies of two Nepalese men and a Japanese tourist

n They found radio telephone beside one of the bodies and called for help. Helicopter took them to Kathmandu.

n After two days and nights of heavy snowf