Z-Wave Climber Describes Surviving Mount Everest Avalanche
Days prior to the deadly Nepal earthquake, Mariusz Malkowski of Sigma Designs remotely demonstrated Z-Wave devices for ISC West attendees while climbing Mount Everest.
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Instinctively, Malkowski knew not to seek shelter inside his tent. “I hid behind the tent in a little crevasse, just hoping that everything would pass by.”
Malkowski describes a mass of snow and air – roughly a mile wide and a couple hundred feet tall – speeding directly at him. He estimates the suffocating tempest blew through the area in about 45 seconds.
“It wasn’t as much as heavy snow because it was mostly high velocity air. It was very difficult to breath. Things were just blowing by. I saw pieces of back packs flying by me. I saw tents. I saw some of my own stuff flying be me,” he said. “People were running for their life.”
In the immediate aftermath, unscathed, he quickly surveyed his surroundings. His tent? Still standing but filled with snow. Although Malkowski had intended to summit Mount Everest by himself, he had been camping as part of a small band of climbing brethren. They too were uninjured. The group had fortunately erected their tents away from the worst hit area of base camp. A couple hundred feet above them, other people’s tents and belongings were blown asunder. (You can view a photo gallery of images shot by Malkowski during his expedition, including recovery efforts at base camp.)
“Luckily for us nobody from our camp was hurt so we just reorganized our stuff and we began to help other people out,” he said. “First we would do triage ourselves, making sure, ‘OK, can you lift your leg? Can you lift your head? What kind of injuries do you have?’ If we saw they needed immediate medical attention, we brought them to the medical tent. Otherwise we just covered them with warm clothes.”
Because daytime temperatures at base camp, especially on sunny days, can oftentimes be on the warm side, Malkowski said many climbers were caught in the icy blast wearing minimal clothing. It was imperative to get the injured bundled up.
“As soon as the sun starts to go down, it can go way below zero very quickly,” he said.
Malkowski and his friends spent the next couple hours feverishly working their way through base camp assisting the injured and helping others prepare to withstand the coming nightfall. Among the wounded, he said he witnessed broken limbs, head trauma, spinal cord injuries, and worse. At least 20 died, including four Americans, in the blast of rock, ice and wind.
“I personally saw about six dead people. After a couple hours we took a break for some hot tea. I was sitting next to covered corpses,” he said. “In one case, a woman I helped had internal injuries. There wasn’t much the doctors could do. They gave her morphine. They don’t have operating tables.”
Unaware of the unfolding devastation and widespread death in Nepal, Malkowski wondered if his family in New Jersey had gotten word of the earthquake.
“I pulled out my satellite phone and I called my family and I said, ‘Everything is OK. There was an avalanche at the base camp. We are all safe. We are helping people. No reason to worry.”
He then placed a call to representatives from his expedition sponsor, Fibaro, who are located in his native Poland. (The company provided updates of MaÅ‚kowski’s adventure via Facebook.) Later in the day he would learn Fibaro scrambled to charter a helicopter that would take him off the mountain the next morning. Still, he would have to contend with spending an uneasy night on Everest. Aftershocks, some of them significant, were causing more snow and rocks to cascade down the mountainside.
Malkowski decided to hike down to a nearby village and spend the night away from base camp. It wasn’t until the next morning did he begin to understand the magnitude of the massive quake’s destruction.
“The helicopter took me to Kathmandu and only then did I really realize that it wasn’t just a local earthquake, it was something really big that the whole world knew about,” he said.
Malkowski’s long plane ride home finally touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport at 5 a.m. on April 28, less than 30 hours after he was melting snow for drinking water and thankful to have survived what is now Everest’s single deadliest disaster. Eventually he expects to one day resume his dream of conquering the highest mountain in the world. For now, though, he’s intent on easing back into everyday life a notch above sea level.
“I am back at work. It takes your mind off. I am checking my E-mail and text messages because some of my friends, while not on the mountain, are either in Kathmandu or trying to get back home,” he said. “I am waiting for those messages and then I can relax. I need to know my friends are safe and sound.”
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