Coast man's Everest miracle gets NRL legends home alive
SOME of the best league players in the country owe their lives to a Sunshine Coast man.
Kokoda Spirit owner Wayne Wetherall was leading a Mt Everest base camp trek with several rugby icons, including league legends Matthew Johns, Paul Harragon, Steven Menzies, and former Newcastle Knights player Stephen Crowe, when disaster struck.
Despite trekking all over the globe, it was the first time Mr Wetherall had to administer oxygen and medicinal steroids, after several hikers experienced critically low oxygen levels.
The trek of 28 people was to raise money for the Mark Hughes Foundation for brain cancer research.
Mr Wetherall said the group had reached the last day of the trek, arriving at the Mt Everest base camp, a viewpoint recognised as the best vantage point to see Mount Everest.
From the base camp, the crew had to walk another three hours to where they would rest before making the trip home.
It was then that many of the hikers' conditions began to deteriorate.
"The last day of the trek is a big one - it's 16km," Mr Wetherall said.
He said several hikers, including a few of the former NRL players, began to show signs of fatigue.
"Some of them, when they spoke, weren't making any sense.
"Low oxygen levels will make you say, see and hear strange things - and you could see it in their eyes.
"Their eyes were just empty - nothing behind them. They looked as if they were off in some faraway place."
Luckily, along with Mr Wetherall's first aid skills, there was a doctor on the trek.
The pair sprang into action and began testing oxygen levels when they noticed two hikers had fallen below 50%.
"That is serious," Mr Wetherall said.
"At hospital, if your levels fall below 90% they administer oxygen.
"These people were below 50 - it was critical."
Crowe was in the worst shape, Mr Wetherall said, followed closely by Matty Johns, both coughing up blood due to altitude sickness.
"Until about midnight we were treating them with emergency oxygen when the helicopter arrived to take three of them back to hospital," Mr Wetherall said.
"If we didn't have that equipment they could have gone into asphyxiation.
"They could have died - there's no question about that."
Despite the ordeal, they have all recovered, including Crowe, Wayne Roberts and David Chung, who had to be hospitalised.
"It's one of those things in life we are trained for but not until you're put under that pressure do you have to make it happen," he said.
In good spirits upon returning to Kathmandu where the trek started, a few of the hikers, including Mr Wetherall, went out for a few, much-needed beers.
"We knew everyone was safe," he said.
"We had conquered the mountain - but the mountain showed us who was boss."
Just days after arriving home however, the crew was hit with the hard news close friend and former NRL boss Matt Callander had died from brain cancer.
The father of four, who helped raise $2mn for cancer research, through the NRL's Beanie for Brain Cancer round, died Sunday surrounded by family.
He was supposed to join in on the hike with good friend, Mark Hughes - who kicked off his charity organisation three years ago - but couldn't for health reasons.
The trek raised $450,000, a sum that made the hardships worthwhile, Mr Hughes said.
"Our good mates passing showed us how important the cause was and really rammed into us why we did the trek in the first place," he said.
"And I couldn't speak highly enough of Wayne and what he did for the hikers.
"If it wasn't for him we wouldn't be talking about this trek - but a lot of other things.
"He was running from room to room for hours checking on everyone, treating them, just doing a fantastic job."