Touching the void

“Sometimes in life things don’t always go to plan. I am currently stuck in a massive ice canyon in Switzerland and I don’t know if I will make it out. But I am not giving up hope.”

Touching the void

These were some of the last words nineteen year old Andrew Rae ever expected to say. A day that started with as much pleasure and happiness as one could believe, soon gave way to a horrific freak accident that left him struggling to survive.


Living in England for the year, Andrew had embarked on a tour of Europe over the summer. On this day he had ventured up one of the highest peaks on the continent, the Jungfrau. It’s a popular tourist destination so you are free to wander around and enjoy the magnificence of the Swiss Alps at your leisure. Andrew, a keen photographer, set off with his girlfriend to admire their beautiful surroundings.


“It seems a silly cliché when someone says that their life flashed before their eyes, and I guess you can never understand what it really means until it actually happens,” he said.


In a freak accident, the snow he was walking on gave way to reveal a large crevasse, and he fell between two narrow ice shafts.


“I thought, I’m too young to die, and kicked out with my legs and slammed my back against the slowed my fall and then stopped me.”


Faced with the impossibility of climbing back out, Andrew set about trying to make holes for his hands in the ice. It worked for a while, until his body heat began to melt the tough ice surrounding him, causing him to slip further into the dark chasm.


“The further down I went, the darker and lonelier it got.”


With the grim reality of a painfully slow death at the front of his mind, he let himself slowly slip until he landed on an ice shelf a further ten metres below. Clinging to the faint hope that his girlfriend may have seen him fall and gone to get help, he sat down and played a waiting game.


“I occasionally screamed out for help. I knew no one would be able to hear me but it made me feel like I was doing something to help myself and it was slightly comforting.”


But as the minutes then hours ticked by, Andrew realised his chances of being rescued were becoming slimmer by the minute.


“I contemplated jumping off [the ice ledge]. It seems strange, but the narrow walls and the darkness of the corridor that I stood in seemed strangely inviting in its mystery,” he remembers.


The walls of ice began to close in around him, turning an already desperate situation into one of seeming hopelessness. The waiting game now involved minutes, not hours.


“I did something then that I never thought I would do. I prayed.”


Despite his mother being Catholic, and being christened in the Anglican Church, Andrew insists he is not a Christian.


“In my prayer I didn’t pray to be let in to heaven, I didn’t beg for forgiveness. I basically said that I didn’t know what was right and wrong in the worlds of faith, and that I was trying in my own way to work it out for myself.”


With hypothermia starting to set in, and the walls of the crevasse continuing to press in around him, Andrew knew he had very little time left to be rescued. But it seems as though God – or life — had not quite finished with him because the next thing he knew, snow was falling on his head and a man was being lowered into the crevasse high above him.


With the language barrier making it hard to communicate, Andrew and his rescuer resorted to hand signals. Since the walls of ice had begun to close up, there was no hope of reaching Andrew. Instead, a harness was thrown down and he had to punch and squeeze his way through the ice while he was being lifted out.


The next few hours were critical as he was showing early signs of hypothermia. He was airlifted to Innsbruck hospital – a once in a lifetime journey that he seems annoyed he couldn’t fully appreciate.


“If I was going to pay a massive bill for the flight I would have liked to enjoy the view,” he muses.


It seems a miracle that Andrew made it out of the depths of Switzerland alive with nothing but some considerable cuts, scratches and bruises across his body. But he is not out of the woods yet.


“The challenge comes from within now, as I relive the event in my head. Nights can be a struggle when I am by myself.”


But he realises he is extremely lucky to be alive, and knows he should treasure every moment of his remaining life.


“When you come that close to death you realise what’s important in life, and everything else, all the silly little stuff, just falls away.”


If you would like to follow more of Andrew’s adventures, visit his blog or follow him on Twitter @bpgttw

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