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Wednesday 7 December 2016

Exclusive: Irishman who cheated death on Everest airlifted home but vows to return next year

'Large rocks were thrown at us like missiles in avalanche'

Jason O'Brien in Kathmandu

Published 29/04/2015 | 07:09

The Irishman who cheated death on Mount Everest last weekend is being medically evacuated from Nepal today – but has vowed to return next year to climb the world’s highest mountain despite his extensive injuries.

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Paul Greenan (38), who runs a plant hire business in Dublin, has described for the first time the terrifying avalanche that swept through base camp on Everest in the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake in Nepal.

A total of 18 people died in the avalanche, including another member of Mr Greenan’s team. Mr Greenan suffered extensive injuries and required three helicopters and a plane to get him back to Kathmandu – and he is only well enough to be medically evacuated today.

Read more: Nepal quake death toll passes 5,000

Aftermath of Nepal earthquake (Photo: Mark Condren)
Aftermath of Nepal earthquake (Photo: Mark Condren)
Aftermath of Nepal earthquake (Photo: Mark Condren)
Displaced Families in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake Pic:Mark Condren
Aftermath of Nepal earthquake (Photo: Mark Condren)
Displaced Families in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake Pic:Mark Condren
A Woman brakes down after identifying a member of her family in a makeshift morgue at one of Nepals's Capital Hospital after been killed in the earthquake. Pic:Mark Condren
Searching goes on in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake hit the region. Pic:Mark Condren
Searching goes on in Kathmandu, Nepal after the earthquake hit the region. Pic:Mark Condren
Fuel is in short supply after the earthquake hit Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren
Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren
Earthquake survivers are brought to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren
Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren
Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren
Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal. Pic:Mark Condren
Sabita Nepal who was brought by helicopter to Bir Hospital, Kathmandu, Nepal is held with in her Grandfather Ombchabur Thjipa hands Pic:Mark Condren

“It’s not that we were buried in snow. By the time the avalanche hit us it had lost an awful lot of power so it was largely rocks being thrown at us like missiles,” Mr Greenan, from Shankill, told Independent.ie from his hospital bed in Cewic Clinic in Kathmandu this morning.

“I think half the base camp was just decimated. Every tent was gone, all our equipment was gone. There were people walking around dazed, it was like some sort of doomsday thing, not knowing where they were.

“There were a huge amount of injuries – I think 70 people were injured, I don’t know the final death figure.”

Read more: Nepal quake: Shortage of helicopters hinders rescue efforts outside capital

From Everest, that currently stands at 18. The total death toll of the earthquake has now surpassed 5,000 people.

The avalanche hit base camp at around midday – and the climbers there had merely seconds to run for cover.

The Mount Everest south base camp in Nepal is seen a day after a huge earthquake-caused avalanche killed at least 17 people, in this photo courtesy of 6summitschallenge.com taken on April 26, 2015 and released on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/6summitschallenge.com
The Mount Everest south base camp in Nepal is seen a day after a huge earthquake-caused avalanche killed at least 17 people, in this photo courtesy of 6summitschallenge.com taken on April 26, 2015 and released on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/6summitschallenge.com
A Nepalese boy talks on a mobile phone near a damaged minaret of a mosque in Kathmandu, Nepal, Tuesday, April 28, 2015. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
Tourists from Vietnam access the Internet from their mobile phones while waiting for their flight at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
National Disaster Response Force from Indian paramilitary force works to recover the dead bodies from a collapsed house after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Tourists stand in front of the Departure gate of Tribhuvan International Airport as they wait for their flight after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
An Indian woman cries as she waits to take a flight back to her country after an earthquake at Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
A girl cries as her family takes refuge at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Tourists wait to board their flights at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Tourists wait to board their flights at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
A tourist from the Netherlands waiting for her flight sleeps in a sleeping bag at Tribhuvan International Airport after returning from the Everest Base in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
An Australian tourist reads a book as she waits for her flight at Tribhuvan International Airport after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
People sleep on the ground in an open area on early morning after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
An earthquake victim carries her baby on her back as she stands outside her makeshift shelter on open ground in the early hours in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A man prays next to rubble of a temple, destroyed in Saturday's earthquake, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
A prayer bell is seen on top of the rubble of a damaged temple after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Royal Thai Air Force personnel load food and relief supplies for Nepal at the military airport in Bangkok, Thailand, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Thai Armed Forces medical team walk to a C-130 cargo plane at the military airport in Bangkok, Thailand, April 28, 2015. The Royal Thai Armed Forces sent 67 medical and rescue personnel to assist the earthquake victims in Nepal, according to The Royal Thai Armed Forces authorities. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
Thai Armed Forces rescue team prepare to board a C-130 cargo plane at the military airport in Bangkok, Thailand, April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom
People sleep inside a makeshift shelter on open ground, early morning after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
In this April 27, 2015 photo, locals watch rescue teams try to remove the body of a 12-year-old girl from a collapsed home in Kathmandu, Nepal. A strong earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley on Saturday. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
People sit on the rubble of a collapsed building following an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal in this Red Cross handout picture taken on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/IFRC/Palani Mohan/Handout via Reuters
In this April 27, 2015 photo, rescue teams search for bodies in the collapsed Sitapyla church in Kathmandu, Nepal. A strong earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley on Saturday. (AP Photo/Wally Santana)
An earthquake victim carries her baby on her back as she stands outside her makeshift shelter on open ground in the early hours in Kathmandu, Nepal April 28, 2015. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
Tents are set up in an open area near multi-storey buildings following an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal in this Red Cross handout picture taken on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/IFRC/Palani Mohan/Handout via Reuters
People gather on a road as traffic is affected by a landslide caused by an earthquake, in Kurintar, Nepal April 27, 2015. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
The Mount Everest south base camp in Nepal is seen a day after a huge earthquake-caused avalanche killed at least 17 people, in this photo courtesy of 6summitschallenge.com taken on April 26, 2015 and released on April 27, 2015. REUTERS/6summitschallenge.com
Video taken from a drone Saturday April 25 2015 shows devastation in the Nepalese capital Kathmandu, caused by Saturday's quake that measured 7.8 on the Richter Scale. (AP Photo / KISHNOR RANA)
Nepalese carry the body of their relative killed in the recent earthquake for cremation at the Pashupatinath temple, on the banks of Bagmati river, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 27, 2015. (AP Photo / Manish Swarup)
Nepalese people affected by the recent earthquake queue to receive food from a non governmental organization, in Kathmandu, Nepal, Monday, April 27, 2015. (AP Photo / Manish Swarup)
Nepalese soldiers carry a wounded man on a makeshift stretcher to a waiting Indian air force helicopter as they evacuate victims of Saturdays earthquake from Trishuli Bazar to Kathmandu airport in Nepal, Monday, April 27, 2015. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Mr Greenan was part of a commercial expedition run by the British adventure company Jagged Globe.

“We’d been in base camp for about a week and a half,” he said.

“We had gone to camp one, come back down and we were having a rest day when the avalanche came down and took us all out.

“We were just lying in the tents when we felt a tremor coming through. So we got up out of the tent and saw this mountain coming at us

People walk past a building that was damaged in an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
People walk past a building that was damaged in an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
A group of people gather outdoors as an earthquake hits Kathmandu city, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Debris lie at Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Rescuers look for victims under a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, recovered from the debris of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers work to remove debris at the historic Dharahara tower, a city landmark, after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, recovered from the debris of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers work to remove debris at the historic Dharahara tower, a city landmark, after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
People gather in an intersection near a damaged building in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/Tashi Sherpa)
Climbers and guides carry an injured after an avalanche struck Everest Base Camp in Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. An avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake in Nepal smashed into a base camp between the Khumbu Icefall, a notoriously treacherous rugged area of collapsed ice and snow, and the base camp where most climbing expeditions are, said Ang Tshering of the Nepal Mountaineering Association. (AP Photo/Pasang Dawa Sherpa)
This photo provided by Azim Afif shows the scene after an avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake swept across Everest Base Camp, Nepal on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Afif and his team of four others from the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) all survived the avalanche. (Azim Afif via AP)
In this photo provided by Azim Afif a man approaches the scene after an avalanche triggered by a massive earthquake swept across Everest Base Camp, Nepal on Saturday, April 25, 2015. Afif and his team of four others from the Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) all survived the avalanche. (Azim Afif via AP)
Rescuers clear the debris at Durbar Sqaure after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
A Nepalese man stands with his dog as rescue workers remove debris at Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Volunteers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, recovered from the debris of a building that collapsed after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
Rescuers remove debris at the historic Dharahara tower, a city landmark, after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)
A school student receives treatment at a hospital after he was injured in an earthquake in Motihari, in the eastern Indian state of Bihar, Saturday, April 25, 2015. Officials say dozens have been killed and more injured in India in a powerful earthquake that struck neighboring Nepal. (Press Trust of India via AP) INDIA OUT
REFILE - ADDING ADDITIONAL INFORMATION People work to rescue trapped people inside a temple in Bashantapur Durbar Square after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
ATTENTION EDITORS - VISUAL COVERAGE OF SCENES OF INJURY OR DEATH Rescue workers carry the body of a victim on a stretcher, after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The 7.9 magnitude powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar TEMPLATE OUT
A boy smiles as he is rescued from a collapsed house after a 7.9 magnitude earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
An excavator digs the rubble to search for the bodies after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
Rescue workers search for bodies as a stretcher is kept ready after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
A woman cries as her son was trapped inside a collapsed house after an earthquake hit, in Kathmandu, Nepal April 25, 2015. The powerful earthquake struck Nepal and sent tremors through northern India on Saturday, killing hundreds of people, toppling an historic 19th-century tower in the capital Kathmandu and touching off a deadly avalanche on Mount Everest. REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar
People rest on debris at Durbar Square after an earthquake in Kathmandu, Nepal, Saturday, April 25, 2015. A strong magnitude-7.9 earthquake shook Nepal's capital and the densely populated Kathmandu Valley before noon Saturday, causing extensive damage with toppled walls and collapsed buildings, officials said. (AP Photo/ Niranjan Shrestha)

“It was about midday on Saturday

“The avalanche hitting you is like a wave. It starts off gently then it’s more and more. It’s not unlike a meteorite coming at you.

“The top fell off the mountain, the snow I mean. And as soon as it hit ground level it started to pick up rock and by the time it got to us it was hurtling rocks of all sizes at us.

“We didn’t even have time to be scared.

Read more: Our sympathies are with the people of Nepal

“We’d seen avalanches all week long and they normally run out of steam before they hit base camp, but this was different. As soon as it hit the deck, we knew we had to run – but we only had about five seconds from that point.

“There was about 10 of us who had got out of our individual tents. We were all lined up in a line, and we just scattered and ran, and hid behind rocks and took cover as best we could.”

The avalanche hit hard, and Mr Greenan unsurprisingly cannot remember the exact details of what happened.

“I was the worst injured – two others in the group got minor injuries – but there was an American fella in the group about five metres up from me who either hit a rock, or a rock hit him, and killed him.

“I don’t know if it was instantaneous. I didn’t see him – I just heard what happened afterwards.”

The American man has since been named as Google executive Dan Friedinburg

Getting Mr Greenan and another badly injured member of the Jagged Globe group off the mountain was a massive undertaking.

“It took me about 30 hours from the avalanche to get to Kathmandu,” he said. 

“It took me three helicopters and a plane to get down here. I had to be stretchered everywhere – I can’t move, I have to be in this position so, as you can imagine, stretchering someone down trails and so on is extremely difficult.

“I arrived here in a pair of boxer shorts, and that’s it. I’ve lost everything else I brought up the mountain.”

His injuries are extensive, and he remained in considerable discomfort as a Norwegian medical team prepared to fly him to Baku in Azerbaijan where an Irish plane is due to meet him and bring him home.

Read more: Death toll exceeds 4,000 as aftershocks terrify survivors

“My elbow was dislocated and replaced three times, my hand is broken, six broken ribs, my pelvis is shattered, and there’s plenty of cuts and bruises and there is some big tube coming out of my chest to release air,” he said.

But Mr Greenan – who has completed three of the ‘seven summits’ challenge in world mountaineering – was adamant that he will not be deterred by his near-death experience.

“This year I had nine climbers on my team. Seven of them had been here last year and they came back to do it again. A few of them will be back next year to do it again, and I’ll be joining them I think,” he said.

“This is a natural disaster. It could have happened anywhere in the world. When people have their eyes set on Everest, nothing will stop them until they get to the top.

“In the words of Homer Simpson, ‘It’s my new lifelong dream’,” he laughed.

His family – including partner Louise – may yet have something to say on that.

“At the time of the avalanche there was obviously very little mobile network so it was about 40 hours before I got through to them and that was difficult for everyone,” he said.

“But they’ve been wonderful.”

Most of the rest of the team remain on the mountain, trying to get down. They are set to ‘walk out’ of the mountain rather than use the incredibly clogged and tiny airport on the mountain. It will take them another four days or so.

Aid agencies including GOAL are currently rushing emergency supplies to some of the worst-affected regions around the capital of Kathmandu.

“GOAL is now moving essential provisions such as emergency relief kits, shelter materials and hygiene kits into these areas as rapidly as possible,” said GOAL’s Emergency Co-ordinator, Darren Hanniffy.

“These villages are extremely difficult to access and spread across a vast geographical landscape so logistics and distribution will be our biggest challenge. We are drawing on the assets of GOAL’s operation in India to circumnavigate the log-jam in Kathmandu by bringing supplies over the border from India and into these areas.

“We need to reach these people as quickly as possible. While the situation in Kathmandu remains extremely serious, people there are currently being reached with aid; the same cannot be said for those stranded in outlying villages.”

The death toll in Nepal now stands at more than 5,000, while more than 10,000 people have been injured. There are warnings that the number of deaths could rise to 10,000 once rescue teams reach remote regions.

Meanwhile, the UN estimates that as many as eight million of Nepal’s 28 million people have had their lives disrupted by the earthquake.

Those who wish to donate to GOAL’s Nepal Earthquake relief effort can do so by visiting the GOAL website on www.goalglobal.org

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