Nepal earthquake: Tales of visitors who survived -- and those who did not

Eve Girawong, a base camp doctor at Mount Everest, died in an avalanche triggered by the quake in Nepal.

Story highlights

  • One Seattle mother receives welcome news that her son, Emmanuel O'Kane, is okay
  • Ashleigh Stumler, of Charlotte, North Carolina, was hiking on Mount Everest, survived earthquake
  • Eve Girawong of New Jersey, a base camp doctor, died in an avalanche set off by the earthquake

(CNN)Ashleigh Stumler thought she was getting dizzy as she hiked in the thin air of Mount Everest. But a guide told her it was something else. An earthquake was roiling Nepal and shaking the world's tallest mountain to its roots.

Stumler lived to tell the tale. Others were not so lucky.
    Eve Girawong, a base camp doctor at Mount Everest, was lost in an avalanche set off by the earthquake Saturday, according to her family and employer.
    "Our beloved daughter, younger sister and best friend has been taken from us today," her family posted on Facebook.
    Every catastrophe brings statistics that numb the mind -- and thousands of individual stories, each of which can break a heart. Families are tearful with relief, or distraught with the loss of one of their own, or frantic in their search for any scrap of news.
    Saturday's earthquake is no exception. Among the stories starting to emerge are these:

    Tom Taplin of Santa Monica, California

    Documentary filmmaker Tom Taplin had been living at Everest's base camp in Nepal for around a month, shooting a film about the community of climbers who stay there. He was one of the climbers killed when avalanches caused by the earthquake hit, creating powerful gusts that swept through the camp.
    "I guess he was blown away by the blast rather than being buried in any rubble," his wife, Corey Freyer, told CNN affiliate KABC.
    Freyer said that her husband died doing what he loved most, but that she is devastated by the death of her "great companion." She recalled their shared adventures to far-flung destinations and extreme landscapes.
    "We went to Antarctica together. We've trekked in Patagonia, and those are the kinds of places that inspired him with his filmmaking, his videography," she said.
    She doesn't know when Taplin's remains will be repatriated, but says that she will plan a memorial service so his friends and loved ones can celebrate his life.

    Ashleigh Stumler of Charlotte, North Carolina

    Stumler was on the slopes of Mount Everest, about four hours away from the area of greatest damage, when the magnitude-7.8 earthquake hit. Her balance was off and she thought at first that she was dizzy, that something was wrong with her, she told reporter Brittney Johnson of CNN affiliate WSOC.
    But her guide told her it was something else -- an earthquake.
    Stumler spoke with Johnson via FaceTime on Saturday afternoon. She said the quake destroyed a camp at which she had stayed just two days before.
    But she survived, and was able to talk to her parents back in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Saturday night.

    Eve Girawong of New Jersey

    Girawong, an avid mountaineer and a base camp medic at Mount Everest, was swept to her death in an avalanche triggered by the quake. She was in the process of completing a second master's degree and postgraduate diploma in mountain medicine at the University of Leicester in the UK.
    "Yes, unfortunately she was tragically in the avalanche that occurred at base camp," Kurt Hunter, a co-founder of Madison Mountaineering, told CNN on Saturday. Madison Mountaineering is based in Seattle.
    He got the information from company President Garrett Madison, who was guiding the expedition.
    "It's devastating," Hunter said. "What's happened at Mount Everest is an absolute tragedy but pales in comparison to what happened in Nepal -- the widespread devastation and loss of life."
    But for Girawong's family, the loss was heartbreaking.
    "Nong Eve Girawong was doing the thing she loved doing most -- helping others," family members posted on Facebook. "Words cannot describe the heartbreak and pain that we are currently suffering - The Girawong family."

    Dan Fredinburg of the San Francisco Bay area

    Dan Fredinburg, an executive at Google, had been posting updates about his adventures in Nepal on Instagram and Twitter.
    But those accounts now bear grim news. His sister, Megan, updated the Instagram account with a message saying Fredinburg had died of a major head injury.
    "We appreciate all of the love that has been sent our way thus far and know his soul and his spirit will live on in so many of us," she wrote. "All our love and thanks to those who shared this life with our favorite hilarious strong-willed man. He was and is everything to us."
    Fredinburg's girlfriend later spoke to CNN, describing him as one of the most influential people in her life.
    "He was just magical," said Ashley Arenson. "He had this way of making the people around him just feel special, without even trying. And make people feel like they could accomplish anything that they wanted."
    She said he constantly brought out the best in people.
    "Dan was a big believer in always wanting to strive to be happy, and I think being happy is being comfortable with who you are, and comfortable and excited and confident about the choices that you've made," said Arenson.

    Emmanuel O'Kane of Seattle

    O'Kane was listed as missing in some media reports. But his mother, Mary O'Kane, tells CNN that she got an email from him at 3:39 a.m. Sunday morning telling her he's alive and well.
    Emmanuel O'Kane said that he's at a staging area.
    "I slept in a bus last night. Not sure where tonight, but everyone is very nice and taking care of us. The aftershocks are powerful," he said in the email.
    O'Kane went to Nepal with some friends three weeks ago to rest, after leading a pilgrimage in India. His mother had not known his exact whereabouts. She was worried and checked her email constantly after the quake, looking for a note from her son.
    "We're incredibly relieved," Mary O'Kane told CNN.

    Jon Reiter of Kenwood, California

    Jon Reiter has scaled all of the "Seven Summits," the highest mountain on each of the seven continents -- except Everest. This is his third straight year trying to scale the tallest peak of them all.
    He turned back in 2013 "because it didn't feel right," according to his wife, Susan.
    This year, at the base camp, disaster struck in the form of an earthquake that seemed to go on forever.
    "An earthquake that long set off avalanches all the way around us," Reiter recalled. "And they came down -- they were large, they were massive avalanches."
    The falling ice and snow took out large sections of the camp, where climbers prepare to ascend Everest. A cloud of snow dust engulfed hundreds of tents as people ran for their lives.
    The earthquake struck just over a year after an avalanche on Everest killed 16 Sherpas, the deadliest single disaster on the mountain up to that point. Reiter was there last year when that avalanche struck. He described to CNN at the time the harrowing experience of seeing bodies being removed.
    Will he try again after witnessing another disaster on the mountain?
    "You would think that he wouldn't because of this and because of last year," Susan Reiter said from her Northern California home. "But knowing my husband, I think he will. I hope not, but I don't want to hold him back."