Tony McMurray knew trekking to Mount Everest base camp might be dangerous but not that a brave Sherpa would be all that stood between him and death, writes Mimi Launder.
Tony, director of finance at Ingram Micro in MK, has fulfilled his promise to bring Sherpa ‘superman Sukman’ to the UK, two years after the avalanche that almost killed them both.
“The whole world shook around us,” said Tony, remembering the first moments a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal as he, four fellow climbers and three Sherpas (including Sukman) began to make their way down the mountain.
“At first, it felt like somebody was pulling a rug from underneath me. I looked behind me and said: ‘What are you doing that for?’” But a horrific realization came over Tony when one of his team shouted ‘Earthquake, down!’. “These big wads of ice and snow that had been sitting for tens of years suddenly came hurtling down.”
What Tony didn’t know was that the earthquake and resulting avalanches would go on to kill 9000 people and injure over 22000.
Tony struggles to describe the earthquake to anyone who hasn’t been through it.
“I didn’t have a reference point. If this happened on your street or my street, there’d be towers falling or buildings collapsing. All we had were mountains around us.”
Tony and his group were left cold and vulnerable, oblivious to the scale of the catastrophe. Where there tents had been earlier was no longer there. If they were to survive, it woule be down to their own wits only.
This meant relying on the bravery and expertise of Sukman who didn’t know whether his village and family were alive down the mountain.
Aftershocks hit the area for the next four days. When Tony finally reached safety, his phone buzzed madly with messages from across the world – the most hard-hitting from his wife Sharon, saying goodbye after fearing he had been killed.
Tony thought his friend, Ellis, had perished in the disaster. “The last I knew of him was that he was somewhere up [the mountain].” But they were reunited. “I saw him in the distance and we just hugged.”
Overwhelmed with gratitude, Tony made a promise to Sukman to bring him back to the UK to thank him for saving his life.
“He was quite tearful,” said Tony on the moment Sukman finally touched down earlier this month. Tony arranged an evening in front of an audience with him, Ellis and Sukman to talk about their experiences. Thousands of miles away from home, Sukman relayed to rapt strangers how his village was destroyed.
Tony said: “Quite frankly, I could have sold it out three times over.”
It was the simple moments of Sukman’s happiness and gratitude the struck Tony the most, from a perspective that is alien to those who have lived in the UK for years: “Once Sukman said ‘I just drank the tap water. You can’t do that at home.'”
Tony added: “This guy lives in one of those most impoverished countries in the world and all he can do is smile.”
Sukman spent the rest of his 9-day trip visiting MK highlights such as the Dons stadium, as well as London landmarks. He has never seen the sea – but that’s a pleasure for next time Sukman visits, which Tony hopes will be in 2019.
Tony said: “We definitely want him to come back. If only to see that infectious smile again.”