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Phuket couple spend terrifying 72 hours in mountains of Nepal

The owner and founder of Rawai-based Blue Label Diving and his wife are currently struggling to get down out of the mountains of quake-shattered Nepal and back to Phuket after a harrowing 72 hours in the mountains near Mount Everest, the world’s tallest mountain.

Ben Reymenants and his wife Simone were trekking in the higher regions around Mount Everest when the earth heaved on Saturday in a 7.9 Richter-magnitude quake near Kathmandu.

After the quake – which was followed by 24 violent aftershocks in the following 24 hours, with more still taking place – communication is difficult, to say the least. Ben and Simone had no laptop with them and phone connections are down.

Phuket couple in NepalBut Ben did manage to speak with The Phuket News using his iPhone and Facebook Messenger, via satellite connection.

Neither was injured, but getting down out of the mountains to the airport has been a massive trial.

They were in the mountains near Gokyo coming down from their last camp at 5000metres, close to the Tibet border and more than 100 kilometres from the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, when the big quake struck.

“The first time was on Saturday at 12:15,” Ben explained. “We were at 5,000m [above sea level] in a snow storm and we nearly fell off the mountain.

“When everything started shaking we took refuge in a small teahouse. At first, we thought it was the storm growing in intensity, but then we were horrified to see cupboards toppling over. We realised the Nepalese staff had left the teahouse.

“We quickly grabbed one backpack containing our survival equipment and took shelter. Rocks tumbling down.”

Nine hours later, scrambling through rockpiles and landslides, they started to realise the scale of the damage.

Houses had been flattened, yaks – the local equivalent of the buffalo – had been pulled off the mountain and the earth kept rumbling. Ben and Simone took refuge for the night in the dining area of a lodge, being woken several times by the aftershocks.

The second big aftershock was at 1pm on Sunday (April 26) in Namche Bazaar.

“We had finally found a hostel that was intact. As we were checking in on the third floor, the building started swaying and bricks began falling from all sides. We flew down the three flights of stairs, trying to keep our balance on the rocking staircase, dodging falling bricks.

“Back on the street, the situation was worse. We were trapped between two collapsing buildings, with no place to run to. But we knew we had to keep moving fast. We passed grassy areas where people had gathered, waving helplessly to the helicopters overhead, but they were flying to Everest Base Camp where an ice avalanche had buried dozens of climbers.

“We had to run with 25-kilo backpacks between the aftershocks. Basically that’s what we’ve been doing for the past 48 hours. We hide and then we run.

“There is no help here. It’s like a war zone. We have spent 22 hours walking through a disaster zone. We felt that we were so very lucky.

“There were no supplies. We managed to get some soup and luckily carried a lot of survival food and a water purifying system. We still had to run out into the open several times a night during aftershocks.”

Yesterday afternoon [April 27], Ben and Simone reached Lukla, about 15km south of Namche Bazaar and at 2,860 metres. A small town, Lukla is used as an access point for Everest climbers, so has accommodation and an airstrip.

Simone, exhausted, can go no further for the time being. Ben said, “We’re stuck in Lukla, high above Kathmandu.

“Up in the mountains there was lots of destruction. Pretty grim, ghost towns and collapsed roads, choppers everywhere taking out deceased and wounded.

“But Lukla itself seems stable. There are cracks in the houses and streets, and there are animals running around free and we’ve seen injured people. But there are no dead bodies in the streets.”

He said he was hoping that he and Simone could get taken out by helicopter or plane, but the crowd of travelers stuck in Lukla is getting bigger and the airstrip is too small for anything larger than light aircraft or helicopters.

He added, “We have at least 24 hours before evacuation. But it keeps me busy and keeps my mind off any movement of the mountain.

“There was only my iPhone to connect with people. Satellite connections went down last night.

“There are aftershocks all the time and my wife is very ill in bed. We think we will go to the hospital today.

“But we need to get off this mountain. We’re trying to find a helicopter but it’s hard. We’ve been worrying for the past three days because there are aftershocks all the time. And the weather is closing in. Helicopters are still bringing injured and exhausted climbers from base camp.

“I’ve just had Thai Airways confirm bookings for us from Kathmandu to Bangkok on Thursday [April 30]. We just want to get back to Thailand.”

The Phuket News will stay in touch with Ben and Simone, and update readers on their progress.

The couple’s company, Blue Label Diving in Rawai, specialises in technical and cave diving. Ben himself achieved a world scuba record in 2000, diving to 202.5 metres underwater in the Red Sea.

Last September, two clients of the company, Hiroyuki Yoshida of Japan and Sandra Smith of the US scored a Guinness world record when they were married 130m below the surface in a cave at Song Hong Lake in Trang. Ben acted as their ordained minister and official photographer.

Phuket News

Additional reporting by Alasdair Forbes.

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