KOLKATA: Had Leslie John Binns, a UK ex-serviceman who lost an eye in an IED explosion in the battlefield, climbed Mount Everest in the last week of May, his name would have been added to the list of 5,000-odd mountaineers who scaled the world’s highest peak since the first ascent by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953.
But by abandoning his journey barely 450 metres before the summit to save the life of Indian mountaineer Sunita Hazra — the first Bengali mother to scale the height barely a few hours ago — Binns has attained the status of a hero for his sacrifice. Binns pulled Hazra down to safety on May 22, the day he was supposed to scale the peak.
“Incredible. Rescuing two & cutting his dream of reaching the summit. Selfless & incredibly brave man. The mountain isn’t going anywhere, I hope he gets another crack at her soon,” Adrian Cunliffe, who climbed Mount Kilimanjaro last year, said on social media.
Congratulatory messages poured in on the Facebook page of his wife, Lindsey Empringham, as well.
“Sometimes the peak is not the summit. This man from Yorkshire reached higher than the top of Mount Everest, a place that is taller than any pinnacle of sporting achievement. He is the only member of a team who could not make it. Yet, he shall remain one of the greatest that went on the trail. Because he showed humanity, compassion and conscience. Leslie, you are a role model to every mountaineer in the world,” wrote Subhojit Roy, another Bengali mountaineer.
Talking to a TV channel from Kathmandu on Wednesday, Binns admitted to having mixed feelings. “Of course I felt sad because I could not climb the summit. But I am happy that I saved a life,” he said.
A thankful Hazra said, “I owe my life to him. I could return home to see my child. What else can I say?”
C Michael Fairman, who worked for the US Marines, described how Binns saved the woman. “On his summit attempt, just shy of the balcony, a young Indian lady had slipped on her descent and fell, landing at the anchor next to Les. She had been in distress due to depletion and supposedly no replenishment of her oxygen, and now she was injured from the fall. Les without hesitation aborted his summit bid to assist and help her down,” he wrote. “Binns changed out her oxygen bottle and did everything he could to try and get her legs under her and get her moving. Frustrated as people continued to walk by uninterested in assisting, Les clipped her into him and began dragging her down.”
He helped another mountaineer on his way and eventually got Hazra to his tent where he made efforts to keep her warm and save her life.