Published: 00:01, 31 January 2016 |
Updated: 13:51, 31 January 2016
Perched precariously 21,000ft up the world’s tallest mountain is perhaps the last place you would expect to experience the horror of an earthquake.
But that is where Major Andrew Todd found himself when a massive tremor opened up huge crevasses and sent avalanches powering down the slopes.
The 35-year-old dad-of-two, who was with a group of Gurkha soldiers, recalls how the disaster destroyed their camp and sparked a three-day rescue mission.
“Everest just exploded,” he said. “The mountain suddenly started throwing avalanches off while the glacier we were camping on opened up behind us.
“A boulder the size of a fridge came crashing through our tent and would probably have killed us had we been in it at the time.
“The noise was horrendous. I have witnessed IEDs in Afghanistan and this was louder than anything I have heard before. When it stopped, we realised we were completely isolated.”
The challenge to climb Everest was supposed to mark the 200th anniversary of Gurkha service to the Crown by putting a Gurkha soldier on top of Everest for the first time.
But Maj Todd and his men, of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Gurkha Rifles, very quickly found themselves in a battle for survival and trying to rescue others.
The moment Everest began shaking, he had 13 soldiers with him and three team members climbing the mountain, plus more at base camp. There were also 116 other climbers and Sherpas on the mountain.
He immediately gripped the situation, first refusing a helicopter to safety so it could help others.
After three days and four violent aftershocks, which made the ground shake so much it was like “camping on a trampoline”, two more rescue helicopters were sent up.
He said: “We could have just flown down – but that was the wrong thing to do.”
Instead they helped with medical evacuations and the dead.
Maj Todd and his team even walked off the mountain so they could help Nepalese villages reeling from the quake on their way down.
His prolonged stay on the mountain caused frostbite of the throat, which he was still to be treated for.
But his selfless courage and leadership has not gone unnoticed, and now he has been named Outstanding Soldier at The Sun Military Awards – known as the Millies.
“We could have just flown down – but that was the wrong thing to do” - Maj Andrew Todd
Maj Todd, whose parents are former Lord and Lady Mayoress of Canterbury Pat and Barbara Todd from Whitstable, was among several nominees and collected the prize at the ceremony at London’s Guildhall in front of a host of celebrities.
Earlier in the day the nominees had been welcomed to 10 Downing Street for a reception hosted by Samantha Cameron.
Maj Todd said: “Our efforts to climb Everest paled into insignificance because of the humanitarian disaster which hit Nepal following the earthquake last year.
“But I guess it is what we are trained to do – particularly to be calm under pressure.
“It feels absolutely amazing to have received this award, although I don’t want to forget the other 13 people who were with me at that time.
“What my team did was incredible and inspiring and I want to recognise them too.”
Maj Todd, from Canterbury, said he hoped to return to Everest with the Gurkhas in 2017 to make another attempt on the mountain.
Also nominated in the Outstanding Soldier category was L Cpl Jason Geer, of the 2nd Battalion, the Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment.
It followed his efforts to train Kurdish Peshmerga forces who were then involved in an intense three-day battle to retake territory in northern Iraq which had been lost in an Islamic State offensive.
The firefight happened within hours of their final day of mentoring by British troops, including L Cpl Geer, whose own work was singled out for praise by the Kurds, many of whom sought him out on their return to thank him.
He said: “From day one to the last there was a massive difference.”
To know passing on his skills helped the Peshmerga win Kirkuk, he said: “It felt really good. It put everyone in the battalion on a high knowing we trained them to a better standard.”
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