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Mountaineers One Day, Heroes the Next

Posted July. 18, 2006 03:27,   


The villagers called them “heroes.” The heroes only blushed in response.

They reply, “Anyone would have done the same if they had the ability to.” With these words they turn to leave, and the villagers give them a long round of applause.

Everything happened in the spur of the moment. At around 10:00 a.m. on July 15, a wave the height of three meters plowed down at Hangye3-ri, Buk-myeon, Inje-gun, Gangwon Province. These waves were not from the ocean, but from the peak of the mountains. The waves sank 40 houses in a matter of seconds.

Villager Lee Kang-guk (age: 61) says, “I was terrified. All of a sudden, I was up to my neck in water.” He left all his belongings behind, grabbed his wife Sohn Kyung-min (age: 56) by the hand, and swam his way up the rooftop of the town hall. When they reached the rooftop, he met four villagers who had evacuated before them.

All villagers gave their hopes up and glazed at the sky, “This must be what death must feel like.”

That was when heroes came out from nowhere. Eight professional mountain climbers, including Kim Se-jun (age: 37, a teacher at Extreme Rider Mountain Climbing School), reached the rooftop of the town hall. The group had been preparing for their hiking trip to China in September at Jeong Jun-gyo’s (age: 49) house. Jeong was their friend of seven years.

The group quickly took out their hiking rope, and threw it to a lodging roof, which was on higher ground than the town hall. The lodging owner, who had been at the rooftop, caught the rope and tied it down. The villagers, with the assistance of the climbers, moved to the lodging rooftop. One or two minutes after the last villager made it across, the town hall crumbled down.

The villagers thought, “Our lives could have ended along with that building.”

“We are right behind you. Don’t worry.”

The mountain climbers calmed the villagers and in about an hour moved every single one to the safe lodging. The group thought they had done their job until they spotted about 15 villagers desperately waving at them from another rooftop.

The climbers clung to their ropes. They moved to the rooftop after fighting past the waves and safely evacuated the villagers to a lodging situated on higher ground. This effort took four hours, and the climbers were left exhausted.

The group was dining on boiled potatoes, when they just barely spotted three stranded villagers from the forest several hundreds of meters away. They deliberated for some while, but decided to put the rescue off till the day after, because it was too dangerous at night.

At 8:00 a.m. the next day, the climbers got back to work. It took them two hours to save Baek Dong-hyun (age: 72) and his wife Moon Yeon-sil (age: 58), and Baek’s sister Hyun-ju (age: 74). They were worn out from the cold and hunger. The climbers apologized for their late rescue.

Baek started sobbing. Baek and his family saved their lives by holding on to a telephone poll, when the rapids caught them.

On Monday, when the rain stopped and the water level fell, they assisted 55 villagers. The 119-member rescue team went in to save some 40 villagers who were still stranded. The villagers held on to the climbers, wanting to treat them to a meal. The climbers refused and prepared to leave.

Kim Se-jun said, “We are just happy that we were able to apply our technique and physical ability into doing something so good.”

The members had to move back to Seoul by public transportation, because all four cars the Extreme Rider Mountain Climbing School and Open Camp Mountain Climbing School members drove to get to the village were wiped away.