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Sat Bains: Altitude sickness saved me from Nepal earthquake

28 April 2015 by
Sat Bains: Altitude sickness saved me from Nepal earthquake

Last week, chef Sat Bains' Guinness World Record attempt to cook for the highest formal dinner in history failed when he developed hape (high altitude pulmonary edema), a life-threatening illness. On Saturday, while in Kathmandu, he was caught up in the Nepal earthquake, which is expected to have claimed up to 10,000 lives. In his first interview since returning to the UK, he speaks to Amanda Afiya.

"The pulmonary edema knocked me out, for sure. We had been trekking that day (to 5,800m) when I started to struggle to breathe, but as we were coming down, when I thought I was going to get more relief, it actually got worse.

"The doctor with us was really concerned, and when we got to the tent I just couldn't get my breath.

"I was given oxygen and steroids, and observed overnight. When I woke up in the morning, I was still out of breath, so I continued to rest. But I realised they were concerned because they decided to only send half the team up to advanced base camp while the other took part in a Puja, giving us permission to go on the mountain. My plan was that once I had recovered I would go up.

"I made the decision to leave, knowing that a jeep could come and fetch me from base camp and I wouldn't need anyone with me. We did a mock dinner at base camp, and I showed them how to set everything up and cook the meal, and then I left. Twenty-two hours later I was in Kathmandu.

"Nepal is so beautiful - such beautiful people, everyone full of life, very colourful.

"I met up with our tour guide who had helped us to sort the trip and he took me for dinner in Kathmandu, and we visited all the temples in the square. It was stunning.

"Then, the following day, just before midday, while I was in my bedroom at the Yak and Yeti hotel (one of the oldest hotels in Kathmandu), there was a massive shock. It felt like turbulence on a plane, I couldn't work out what was going on. I looked out of my window and the sky was full of birds. Just minutes before the hotel had been setting up for a wedding. Trees were swaying, people were holding on to trees, and the water in the swimming pool was swirling just like the water going down the plughole in a big kitchen sink. It was the most surreal thing. So I grabbed my wallet and passport but left my baggage in the room, and left my room. In reception and out on the streets everyone was screaming, there had been a stampede and quite a few people were injured from being trampled on. When the next tremor hit, I was standing in a carpark - coaches were falling on their sides.

"Our tour guide came to see me and told me to stay tight, saying that the hotel would want to account for us. The whole neighbourhood was closed down. I met a photographer, a chap called Giles who works for the New York Times, he had come from photographing climbers just before they set off on their climb - it's mad to think that those images may be the last ever images of those people - and we got some food and supplies and headed down to the old town. It was just like a house of cards, it broke my heart, only few hours ago I had been taking in its beauty.

"When I became aware that there had been massive avalanches on Mount Everest I was terrified for my team and the sherpas. We were able to establish that they were safely at advanced base camp, although it meant they were going to be stuck there. Critically, they had food and water and everything they needed for a few days. Yesterday I got a phone call from Keith the medic who was able to confirm they were all safe and all coming down the mountain. Meanwhile, our helicopter pilot, Tim, had been safely getting people off the mountain too.

"All our flights out of Kathmandu were cancelled three times, but I ended up getting a relief flight out of there yesterday. The problem with Kathmandu airport is that there is only one flight in and one flight out each day, but they needed to get tourists out of there quickly so that they could concentrate on the relief work.

"I fear for the death toll. Having travelled through the villages, their houses are made from such rickety bricks so it really wouldn't take much force at all to blow them down. To see such a sunny and lush country reduced to this is just surreal.

"How am I feeling now? How lucky can a guy be?

"I'm glad I was there, but I'm glad that I'm safe. I put my family through hell, and it was such a humbling experience. The love and support from friends and family has been incredible and I would like to thank them all for the concern, but my heart is with the people of Nepal.

"I honestly believe that Mount Everest didn't want me on the mountain. I was lucky, I'm safe, I wasn't injured, but for other people it has been horrific. One guy died of shock next to me in the hotel - that's how much it affects people. I never felt afraid, never once, and that's because of the people around me - I was so supported by them I knew I was going to be OK. I was definitely blessed.

"I'm back at work today but not sure how it's going to be. Talking about it will probably help. I feel very lucky and I want to celebrate that. It was a close call. I want to get in the kitchen and do my job. I don't want to disappear or hide away, I got the chance to get out of somewhere so bad. How have I survived a life-threatening illness and then gone straight into a life-threatening situation. It's unbelievable.

"Would I return to the mountain? I know now that I'm not cut out for it. I woke up every morning and saw Mount Everest and she is beautiful - I really felt her power. But I genuinely believe that she doesn't want people on her. Man wants challenges and wants to climb the highest mountain in the world, but two years on the trot the deaths outweigh the challenges, it's a moving mountain getting higher every year. I felt her presence, when I looked up at her I realised how insignificant I was standing underneath - she is incredible - how snow comes of peak… people want to climb that but it's so unnatural.

"The irony for me is that we were trying to raise £100,000 for Community Action Nepal, and now it's even more relevant. I'm going to do everything I can to help raise that money and I would really like to encourage people to help, even if it's only £1 - we've got to raise that £100,000."

•To support the expedition's fundraising for Community Action Nepal, visit their Just Giving page https://www.justgiving.com/everestdinner/

World's Highest Dinner Party team safe >>

Sat Bains suffers pulmonary edema in Everest dinner party bid >>

Everest dinner party update: Sat Bains and team hit base camp >>

Sat Bains' Everest dinner party record attempt reaching new heights >>

Chefs unite to raise £20,000 for Hospitality Action and Community Action Nepal >>

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