‘Boulders the size of London buses tumbled by’ - Nepal trekkers tell amazing survival story

The former high sheriff of West Sussex, Col Sir Brian Barttelot, has spoken of his amazing survival story after being caught in the Nepal earthquake which trapped him on a mountain for around a week.

Maggie Burgess and Col Sir Brian Barttelot, along with fellow trekker Hilary Young after surviving the earthquakes
Maggie Burgess and Col Sir Brian Barttelot, along with fellow trekker Hilary Young after surviving the earthquakes

Sir Brian has described ‘boulders the size of London buses’ flying past him and his fellow charity trekkers when a massive 7.9 magnitude quake struck the country two weeks ago.

Speaking on Tuesday, the day when another devastating quake struck near Mount Everest killing scores more, Sir Brian, from Stopham, near Pulborough, has described his terrifying ordeal.

He says he and the ten-strong party he was with, which included charity worker Maggie Burgess from Shopwhyke, near Chichester, are lucky to have survived the disaster which claimed thousands of lives.

Paths were demolished and mountains crumbled

“There were boulders the size of London buses whistling past our ears and all you could do is get down and hope one didn’t hit you,” said Sir Brian, who served in the Coldstream Guards regiment of the British Army for more than 30 years.

“Whole trees were being taken with them, the noise was incredible and you couldn’t see down the valley for all the dust. It was a most alarming situation.

“We could see the sides of mountains coming down around us and all we could is hope the ground we were on didn’t collapse. “Thankfully it was quite firm so it held and then the shaking stopped.”

Sir Brian, who was high sheriff from 1997-98, was with a group taking part in a huge trek from the capital Kathmandu to Manaslu, one of the country’s highest mountains, for a charity which aims to eradicate leprosy in the poverty-stricken country.

The group had to cross this swing bridge showing cracks at its base

Among the ten explorers was Mrs Burgess, wife of former high sheriff Patrick Burgess, whose charity Promise Nepal they were raising money for at the time.

The group were on a mountain 3,300 metres above sea level when the first quake hit just 50 miles from its epicentre in Gorkha on Saturday, April 25. And little did they know another massive quake measuring 6.8 was about to strike.

By now they had made it to a tiny village which had been completely flattened.

“The noise was difficult to describe, it was so loud and boulders and whacking big trees were bounding down the hillside towards us,” said Mrs Burgess, who has undertaken more than 40 charity treks since first visiting the country in 1976.

A young girl injured in the disaster. Most of the villagers were outside when their homes crumbled, limiting the death toll

Sir Brian added: “In the first one a lot of rubble came down but it loosened a whole lot more so when the second earthquake hit a lot more came crashing down.

“I got used to dodging bullets while in the army but when it hit you felt totally helpless.

“Some of the Sherpas we were with banded together but I remember thinking one rock would take all of them out so all I could do is put my back to the hill, cover my head and hope for the best.”

Amazingly none of the group were injured but still the danger was far from over.

The group of trekkers, who were raising money for Maggie's charity Promise Nepal, which aims to eradicate leprocy in the country

Deciding where they were was dangerously exposed if another quake happened, the group’s highly experienced Sherpa, Pertemba, led them on to a bigger village out in the open.

“There were huge aftershocks happening every few minutes and we were having to scrabble up rocks because the trails had just disappeared into the river,” Sir Brian said. “We all knew another avalanche would probably kill every one of us.”

Mrs Burgess added: “I remember thinking if there’s another avalanche we all would have had it for sure.

“We were all scared but we had nowhere else to go.”

Eventually the group did make it to the village of Lhogaon, where a health post set up by Doug Scott, the first Britain to climb Everest, had been partially destroyed.

A monastery cut into the mountain there had been completed destroyed, killing one monk while the others managed to just escape in time.

Most of the villagers had been outside at the time when many of their buildings had been destroyed, greatly limiting the death toll.

One young girl suffered a broken pelvis and femur while a pregnant woman broke her ankle, but otherwise the villagers, and the fellow foreign trekkers who gathered, miraculously survived unhurt.

It took 48 hours to get a brief message back home to their loved ones who were desperately awaiting news.

Amazingly this was not the first time Sir Brian had escaped death in Nepal. On his only other visit to the country he was due to be on a flight which crash landed at the notoriously dangerous Lukla Airport high in the mountains, killing everyone on board. His flight was only switched at the last minute.

“I think my wife will be confiscating my passport from now on,” he joked. “She knew I was halfway up the mountain and we couldn’t get a message out for several hours because of the chaos.

“She went to church the day after to prey not knowing if we were dead or alive.”

Still Sir Brian and Mrs Burgess had to wait for around a week before eventually being lifted off the mountain, squashed on the floor of a rickety old Russian helicopter with 27 others amid thunder and lightning and lashing rain.

He said: “We were just incredibly lucky, none of us were injured and we had rations of food and water so we were OK to wait because we knew there must have been people in worse situations then us who needed helping first.”

Two weeks after the first set of earthquakes killed more than 8,000, Nepal was hit by another 7.3 magnitude quake struck on Tuesday, killing people as far away as bordering India.

In one of the hospitals that Maggie supports she heard news that nine people had been injured and one person sadly killed.

Firefighters from West Sussex Fire and Rescue were part of an international aid effort to reach the many people cut off by the first quake.

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