WKU professor speaks out about 'escaping death' from 70 foot crevasse

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by Whitney Harding

WHAS11.com

Posted on June 12, 2014 at 7:07 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 12 at 7:31 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- Falling into a 70-foot mountain crevasse in the Himalayas wasn’t the first time that Dr. John All had found himself in a slippery situation.

“I’ve faced death many times,” he said weeks afterwards sitting on his back porch in Bowling Green, Kentucky. “I’ve been charged by hyenas and lions in Africa. I’ve stumbled into drug plantations in Mexico and Guatemala…I’ve had somebody pull a trigger of a gun at me and the gun just misfires! But those are all one-second, you live or die type of things.”

This was definitely much different; but what made All’s situation even more unbelievable was that it happened when nothing was happening at all.

“That was the worst part!” the Western Kentucky professor exclaimed. “I’ve climbed so many risky places, crazy crazy stuff. This was a rest day!”

All and his research team had been gathering snow samples on Mt. Everest days before only to have to change plans after an avalanche had separated their group and killing some of the members. The conditions were then too hazardous there, so they moved to a different section of the mountain range near Annapurna. The group decided to go down the mountain for a day to rest their lungs and muscles for more climbing while All stayed to gather more samples.

PHOTOS: WKU professor climbs out of 70 foot crevasse

“I walked from the tent no more than 100 meters, maybe a couple hundred meters, beautiful flat snow field,” All described. “I’m walking along and all of a sudden, boom! I’m falling through space and my face smashes on the front of an ice wall. I’m bouncing back and forth between the two. I smash my knee, rip my arm out of socket trying to stop myself. I just know I’m dead.”

As unlucky as All was to fall into the crevasse when everything looked serene and peaceful, he found just enough luck to keep him in a situation to get out.

“Somehow, there’s a piece of ice wedged in the crevasse and I manage to fall on that,” he explained. “I’m wedged in there, basically my broken arm not letting me fall forward and I realize I’m alive! Ninety percent of people who fall in here are already dead and [being alive] that gives me a chance.”

So, he took it. Despite bleeding internally and externally, All began the biggest climb of his life.

“You can’t look at the summit and think, ‘I want to be there,’” he said. “You gotta look at, ‘Okay, what’s the next step? Let me take that safely. What’s the next step? Let me take that safely.’”

In order to get out of the crevasse All looked at his journey the same way he looks at everything with his life: just keep on moving. That mantra became bigger than just motivation. It literally was the only way for him to survive.

RELATED: Video: WKU professor records 70-foot fall

“I’m utterly unprepared. I don’t have on water-proof gloves. They’re just fleece gloves so they are frozen. I’m hypothermic and it’s literally forming ice on me while I’m trying to move. That’s another reason I can’t stop. I mean, there’s no break or I’ll go hypothermic in minutes because I’m so utterly unprepared,” All said.

Beaten up from the fall and bleeding both internatlly and externally, he knew he had to keep moving for his survival.

“You know I’m exhausted. I’m spitting up blood. I’m doing all these other things and it’s like, ‘What else are you going to do? Are you going to sit here?’ That’s clearly not an option. I keep moving,” he said.

So while All is trying to get his bearings, figure out his path and of course assess the damage to the ice around him as well as himself, he gets an idea: he wants to film parts of his escape.

“Taking it was to some extent an affirmation of life!” All said. “Alright, I’m going to get out of here and show them this video.”

Five hours later “give or take” All said, he is able to climb his way out of the crevasse. He desperately wanted that moment to breathe and think, “Okay!” but then when he went to stand up, he realized he had a long way to go.

“I thought I was going to get out of there and just stroll, so I get out to the top and I’m like, ‘Okay! Let me pop out and start walking!’ and I’m like, ugh, ugh, my body won’t pop out!” he exclaimed. “That was the horrible part because everyone was down resting and I had no way to communicate with them or anything. So I crawl back to camp and my body is just totally shut down at this point.”

After crawling for two hours All finally reached the tent. He hadn’t eaten or had anything to drink in at least 24 hours. His body was shutting down and due to weather in Katmandu, a helicopter was unable to reach to him for 16 more hours.

ABC STORY: WKU professor survives 70-foot drop into a crevasse in Nepal

“I just laid part of my body in the tent, part of my body out of the tent in the wind for hours,” he said. “Thankfully, I got a knife and was able to cut my boots and my crampons off and crawl into the tent.”

A half-a-day later, All finally arrived at a Nepal hospital. Doctors had to put him out to relocate his arm and look at all the other injuries he had, but even after they had looked at him there were still so many questions that needed to be answered: Had the internal bleeding stopped? What was wrong with his leg? How many ribs had been broken?

All could breathe better when he returned to the United States and American doctors started checking things off.

“There are at least seven [ribs] broken. I’ve never gotten a final count,” All said looking at his injuries and listing the damage. “The shoulder is totally not working right. It can’t be lifted in a lot of ways. In the spine, I’ve got compression fractures and then the little pokey things on the outside of the spine? Those are broken. None of that stuff was caught by the Nepalese! Which was really scary when I get back they’re like, ‘Oh, what about all these back fractures?’ And I’m like, ‘What?’”

All is now back in Bowling Green healing physically and mentally from the whole ordeal, but for him conserving strength isn’t the biggest issue. Working to conserve mountains and the environment is his life, and that doesn’t happen while sitting at home.

PHOTOS: WKU professor climbs out of 70 foot crevasse

“The goal of conservation and science and getting out there and actually living life and doing what it takes is worth the risk, because when the worst happens you can survive it,” All said with a smile. “I’ve just lived through the worst that can happen and you can do it!

“I should be dead. I mean, I was dead! And just managed to crawl out of the mouth of death,” he added of his courageous climb.

All has another expedition planned to Peru in the next couple weeks. His group includes 20 people, including undergraduate students from Western Kentucky, Western Washington and the University of Colorado. He will definitely be on a limited mobility with regards to climbing, but he said he simply can’t abandon his group.

“I think that’s a huge problem the world has: fear of what can happen,” he said. “You don’t want to stop trying because you’re afraid of something.”

You can see more on this story in The Courier Journal's Sunday Paper.

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