| Chaithanya on his way to the summit
Wing Commander Ramesh Chandra Tripathi, a member of the IAF Everest expedition, talks about the final moments
We left camp at 10.15 in the night of May 29. It had to be the night if we were to make it on top by morning. There is another reason. I do not think I could have done it in the daytime, it is so scary. I might have stepped on a dead body or two. Darkness makes it a little easier. What you cannot see ' such as the distance you have to cover, such as the steep 3,000-feet fall ' you are less scared of.
Chaithu (Squadron Leader Sirigere Shivashankara Chaithanya), Nikka (Sergeant Nikku Ram Chowdhary) and I set off. We knew we would be separated but we had our sherpas. The sherpas were carrying two bottles of oxygen for each of us. That is their job.
I was the climbing leader. Chaithu used to look at me as some kind of a role model. When you are making the final bid ' we had called off an attempt on May 21 because of the weather ' you are already pushing the limits of your endurance. You have your individual pace.
I made good pace and the weather was great and suddenly I found myself on the summit. I was on top at 05.15 hours and left in about 10 minutes. I could see Nikka and Chaithu from the top, trudging up with their sherpas.
As I descended, I crossed Chaithu. It must have been around 7.45 at the second ridge. There were people behind him coming up. The weather was fine till then. I told him: “The summit is waiting for you but please try to make it a little faster.”
He was looking fine. Exerted, of course. But everyone is. When I met him, I thought he would take just another 45 minutes or so to the summit. But I think he took a little longer.
Around 9.45, I was back in the summit camp. I decided to wait for Nikka and Chaithu. So I cleaned up the tent.
Wing Commander Dahiya asked me on the radio what I was doing and I joked: “I’m drying my clothes.”
Then I got the news again on my hand-held Motorola VHF set from the advance base camp lower down that Chaithu had summitted.
But around 11 am, I could see the weather packing up. And then it was on me. Windspeed was between 80 and 100 kmph where I was. It would have been so much more at the top and the temperature was minus 33 degrees celsius.The tents were almost flying.
I stepped out to look again and could not stand outside for more than 30 seconds.
Chou had come in and he was catching his breath and peering out again and again.
By 2 in the afternoon, the blizzard had peaked. I learnt later that Sherpa Jamling had radioed Wing Commander Amit Chowdhary, the team leader, by 1700 hours and said “we are on the second step, the most difficult portion is done”.
Our hopes went up. But then, sherpa Jamling staggered in after 2000 hours, his headlight gone, one crampon missing and barely able to breathe.
All the other climbers had come down, having given up their attempts. People who went after Chaithu had retreated. We thought Chaithu was probably hiding behind a rock or somewhere. The wind was howling. The cold was numbing.