SINGAPORE - Three climbers spoke of their relief and disappointment on Monday after their bid to become the third Singapore team to scale Mount Everest was cut short by an avalanche triggered by the Nepal earthquake.
Aluminaid Team Singapore Everest were scheduled to depart from Everest base camp on April 25 - the day of the earthquake - on the third rotation of their climb. But they had fortuitously postponed it by one day.
The team had planned four rotations to acclimatise and the fourth rotation would have seen them attempt to climb from base camp to the 8848-metre summit.
Team co-leader, Ms Yusrina Yaakob, a teacher, said: "Had we departed just one day earlier, we would likely have been caught in a much more dangerous situation halfway through our climb, higher up in the mountains."
The team immediately sought shelter in a tent when the avalanche hit before abandoning their attempt. They arrived back in Singapore on May 4.
The 28-year-old said they had initially wanted to continue with the climb. But after seeing the damage to the campsite the next day they changed their minds.
"Some climbers did not survive," she said. "We realised how lucky we were to have survived the wrath of an avalanche."
Further announcements that the route was unstable for climbing confirmed the group's decision to return home to their worried families.
For fellow team member Mr Ismail Latiff, 36, a Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) officer who has been to Malaysia and Indonesia for disaster relief work, it was the first time he was himself caught in a disaster.
"My immediate response was to account for fellow climbers at base camp and to provide first aid to treat the wounded," he said.
Mr Latiff said, however, that the Nepali operators did not allow them to take part in search and rescue operations due to safety concerns.
He and his brother Zulkifli Latiff, 42, both Singapore Civil Defence Force officers, were caught in the avalanche with Ms Yaakob.
Another member, Seumas Yeo, 26, an economics graduate, had been evacuated to Kathmandu earlier for an unrelated injury. He was recovering from surgery in his Kathmandu hotel room when disaster struck.
A fifth member - the team's other co-leader, Mr Muhd Hilwan, 29 - was also supposed to climb but the programmer suffered a minor stroke in an earlier expedition and stayed in Singapore.
The team had been preparing for the mission since 2010 by climbing stairs three times a week and gym training in a simulated low-oxygen environment.
"We are disappointed that we cannot celebrate SG50 from the summit of Mount Everest but we feel lucky to be alive," Ms Yusrina said.
The avalanche on Mount Everest claimed at least 19 lives. The 7.8-magnitude earthquake is known to have killed at least 7,903 people and left nearly 18,000 injured.
The team announced at a press conference at Singapore Management University yesterday that they will be donating their team fund to rescue efforts in Nepal and working with their title sponsor, medical device company Aluminaid, to channel funds to relief efforts.