Alps survivor had to strip husband's body

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The Independent Online
A BRITISH woman forced to strip her husband's corpse to keep her son warm after they fell into a crevasse on Mont Blanc, yesterday described their two-day fight to survive in freezing temperatures.

Pamela Caswell, 40, fell into the 100ft crevasse after a snow bridge gave way beneath her as she descended western Europe's highest mountain. At an altitude of 3,500m (11,480ft), she was roped onto her son, Simon Painter, 16, and her husband, Dr Stephen Caswell, 37, a geology lecturer at Plymouth University. They were unable to hold her weight and fell after her.

The accident happened about 3pm on Sunday; Dr Caswell died five hours later. They were rescued at 7am on Tuesday.

Mrs Caswell said yesterday: 'I thought if I was going to die, why hadn't we all died immediately?'

She added: 'By the end of the second day I was getting worried and began to switch off, but I forced myself to believe we'd pull through and survive.'

Dr and Mrs Caswell, from Hartley, Plymouth, had been married a year. Speaking from Chamonix hospital, in France, where she and Simon are recovering, Mrs Caswell, an educational adviser, said: 'We were belaying down the glacier when it happened. I was stepping down backwards and couldn't see what was behind me, then I stepped on a snow bridge . . . and I just went through.

'I thought I'd broken my back at first. Stephen had a gash on his head, his arm was broken, but I was most worried about his leg - it looked like the bone was pushed out from below.'

Mrs Caswell said: 'We tried to keep him warm and give him first aid, but he just slipped away. He was conscious for a while and I tried to talk to him, but when I could no longer find a pulse on Sunday night all I could think of was my son.'

They were trapped in an ice fissure about 45m (150ft) deep. As temperatures dipped to -5C, Mrs Caswell used Dr Caswell's clothes to keep Simon warm. She said: 'We got into our bivvy bags and, when Stephen was dead, we used his to make a tent over our heads to keep the drips off. We had a stove, but the matches were too wet to light it, so we ate handfuls of snow, some bits of chocolate and some dried fruit.'

They blew whistles and shone torches to attract attention, but bad weather kept climbers off the mountain on Monday and it was not until Tuesday that anyone looked into the crevasse.

'I tried to speak to them in broken French and communicate that we needed help - they were Italian, I think - then they went away again,' Mrs Caswell said.

A helicopter was sent to their rescue and they were airlifted to hospital. Dr Caswell's body was flown to Courmayeur, Italy.

'We've climbed all over the Alps. We knew all the risks. We know there's danger, but it was just bad luck,' Mrs Caswell said.

(Photograph omitted)

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