Mount Everest death: Maria Strydom fell ill just 15 minutes from summit

Husband Robert Gropel reached the top after asking Strydom to wait for him, but she died in his arms on the descent

The Melbourne university lecturer Maria Strydom fell ill just 15 minutes climb from the summit of Mount Everest and waited while her husband Robert Gropel reached the top.

She died on the way back down the mountain in his arms on 20 May.

I asked, Do you mind if I go on, and she said, Yes, you go on, Ill wait for you here, her husband Robert Gropel told the Seven Network on Sunday. From that position the summit didnt look that far, 15 minutes away.

When I made it to the summit of Everest it wasnt special to me, because I didnt have her there.

Robert Gropel said he blamed himself for Maria Strydoms death. Photograph: Narendra Shrestha/EPA

I just ran up and down and it didnt mean anything to me.

Strydom, 34, was nearing the 8,850-metre summit when she fell ill with altitude sickness. On the way back down the mountain she struggled to walk and started speaking gibberish.

With medication and more oxygen brought up by sherpas, Strydom improved and was making her way down. But she suddenly collapsed and could not be revived.

Im her husband, its my job to protect my wife and get her home and its just natural for me to blame myself, Gropel said. I still cant look at any pictures of her because it breaks my heart.

Strydom, a finance lecturer at Monash University, and Gropel, a veterinarian, were vegans who were determined to climb the highest mountains on each continent. We want to prove that vegans can do anything and more, Strydom said in March.

Sherpa climbers brought Strydoms body down the mountain to Camp Two on Wednesday, where a rescue helicopter picked it up and took it to Kathmandu on Friday.

Her body has now been brought to Kathmandu from the mountain, said Phu Tenzi Sherpa of the Seven Summit Treks that organised her expedition.

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