Footy legend faces death on the slopes of angry Everest

A MOMENT OF SAFETY: Damian Bourke outside his tent.
A MOMENT OF SAFETY: Damian Bourke outside his tent.

EVEN for one of Australia's best known and accomplished athletes, climbing Mt Everest was always going to be a big enough job.

And it was always going to be dangerous, even with nothing going wrong.

But when things did go wrong for Damian Bourke's adventure holiday of a lifetime, survival became a luxury, one enjoyed by only the lucky few.

"And it was just luck," the legendary aussie rules player told guests at his Freshwater Villas property in Ada St, Gympie, this week.

The Brownlow Medal contender who captained the Geelong Cats from 1987 to 1989 and moved to the Brisbane Bears in 1993, is now a successful property investor and probably not such an easy person to intimidate.

"But when you see that ice coming down off the mountain, on both sides of the valley, right on top of you, you know you're in trouble," he said.

About 9000 people were killed in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, by the Anzac Day earthquake in April, and more than 23,000 were injured.

JUST THE BEGINNING: Ladders show the way (above) as climbers set out and (right), making camp in a wild place.
JUST THE BEGINNING: Ladders show the way (above) as climbers set out and (right), making camp in a wild place.

Up on the Everest slopes, at the climbers' camp, Damian Bourke was facing eternity.

"The roar was constant and deafening, like being in a cyclone.

"We were camped in ice and it was moving. Footing became non-existent.

"I was running forward but the ground was moving me backwards, just like in the cartoons.

"I saw an ice axe and just whacked it in and hung on.

"We were smashed by ice and snow and rocks and buried about waste deep.

"I'm pretty sure I was the only Australian on the mountain at that time.

"I had no tent and there were people who had been alive only minutes before, now dead.

"Luckily we had enough supplies to walk to the next camp, but you had to be careful where you trod, because the crevasses were filled with snow and you couldn't see them.

"If someone fell down there, there would be no hope of getting them out. You wouldn't even try," he said.

With very little communication, they had no idea what awaited them as they struggled onwards.

"We knew less about what was going on than people in Australia. The outside world thought we were all dead.

"There was a Swedish chopper pilot, Rato Rush, and I will always be grateful to him, as will a lot of people.

"He just kept on flying, picking up survivors.

"He had to hover rather than land because the rotors could only just grab the air at that altitude and he might not have been able to take off again.

"He flew all day. He took us to Lukla, in a chopper we shared with dead friends.

"I rang up to tell people I was still alive and they were giving me all sorts of survival advice.

"I had to tell them I was in a coffee shop drinking hot coffee. It was about then I

realised that I really was alive."

Sadly, the dead included film producer Tom Taplin, who had stayed at Base Camp, promising his wife he would stay safe and not try to climb the mountain."

Another casualty was Google executive Dan Freudenberg, who was at the same camp as Mr Bourke.

"The first quake was 7.4 on the scale, the second 6.9."

Mr Bourke hopes earthquakes are not part of his fate. "I was in the 1987 one in Los Angeles and 12 months ago I was in Iceland for the earthquake and eruption."

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