Israeli climber tells of Everest rescue
Friday 25 May 2012
An Israeli who rescued an unconscious climber on Mount Everest instead of pushing onward to the summit, says the man he helped, an American of Turkish origin, is like a brother to him.
Nadav Ben-Yehuda, 24, who was climbing with a Sherpa guide, would have been the youngest Israeli to reach the summit. He came across Aydin Irmak, 46, near the summit last weekend.
Four climbers died on their way down from the summit amid a traffic jam of more than 200 people rushing to reach the world's highest peak as the weather deteriorated.
Mr Irmak left Turkey for New York more than two decades ago, but remains proud of his Turkish heritage. The friendship stands in contrast to the political tension between Turkey and Israel, which were once firm allies.
“Aydin, wake up! Wake up!” Mr Ben-Yehuda recalled saying when he found his friend in the darkness.
He said Mr Irmak had been returning from the summit but collapsed in the extreme conditions, without an oxygen supply, a torch and a rucksack. Mr Ben-Yehuda, who developed a friendship with Mr Irmak before the climb, had delayed his own ascent by a day in hopes of avoiding the bottleneck of climbers heading for the top.
There have been periodic tales of people bypassing stricken climbers as they seek to fulfil a lifelong dream and reach the summit of Everest, but Mr Ben-Yehuda said his decision to abandon his goal of reaching the top and help Mr Irmak was “automatic,” even though it took him several minutes to recognise his pale, gaunt friend.
“I just told myself, 'This is crazy.' It just blew my mind,” he. “I didn't realise he was up there the whole time. Everybody thought he had already descended.”
The Israeli carried Mr Irmak for hours to a camp at lower elevation. Both suffered frostbite and some of their fingers were at risk of amputation.
Mr Ben-Yehuda lost 20 kilos (44 lbs) in his time on the mountain, and Mr Irmak lost 12 kilos (26 lbs), said Hanan Goder, Israel's ambassador in Nepal.
“They really have to recover mentally and physically,” Goder said. “They call each other, 'my brother.' After the event that they had together, their souls are really linked together now.”
The ambassador said the rescue was a “humanitarian” tale that highlighted the friendship between Israelis and Turks at a personal level, despite the deteriorating relationship between their governments.
One of the key events in that downward, diplomatic spiral was an Israeli raid in 2010 on a Turkish aid ship that was trying to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of eight Turkish activists and a Turkish-American.
Mr Irmak told The Jerusalem Post: “I don't know what the hell is going on between the two countries. I don't care about that. I talked to his (Ben-Yehuda's) family today and I told them you have another family in Turkey and America.”
Mr said he could not say with certainty how he would have reacted if he had come across a stricken climber he did not know. Oxygen is in such short supply and the conditions are so harsh, he said, that people on the mountain develop a kind of tunnel vision.
“You just think about breathing, about walking, about climbing,” he said.
The fundamental questions going through the mind of a climber heading for the peak are: “Are you going to make it?” and “When is the right time to turn back?”
And once a climber begins the descent, the all-embracing question becomes: “How fast can I go down?”
Mr Ben-Yehuda said his military training in Israel helped shape his decision. “You never leave a friend in the field,” he said.
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