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Miracle on Mount Everest

You can see the curvature of the earth," says Dan Mazur.  "You may be very far above the clouds. So you often see really amazing sun rises.  It is a very amazing place to be."

It’s one of the most tantalizing places on the planet—and one of the most dangerous.  At 29,000 feet, the top of the world is the summit of Mount Everest.  Climbers plan and train for years and often get only one shot.

Matt Lauer, NBC News: When you get there does it make you then say, “It’s worth the risk.”Mazur: You know if things are going well, you really feel that it’s worth it.  But when some of these things start to go wrong—then it can become very stressful.

Every year, a few hundred of the fittest, toughest adventurers on earth attempt the climb. Every year, some die trying.  Each time there are fateful decisions with terrible consequences—grieving families back home, distraught colleagues at base camp and endless questions of “what if?”

But this story is different— all because of what happened when two climbers met and one had to make a life or death choice.

Lincoln Hall was one of Australia’s best-known mountaineers.  He’d been part of a 1984 expedition that put the first two Australians on the summit of Everest. He’d gotten close to the top himself that day but didn’t make it.  He kept climbing, wrote books on mountaineering, but only now, 22 years later, at age 50, was he getting another shot at the dream of a lifetime—and taking the risk of a lifetime.

Richard Harris was the man who invited Hall back to Everest.

Harris’s 15-year-old son Chris, a climbing prodigy, was attempting to become the youngest person in history to summit Everest. 

The Harrises asked Lincoln Hall to lend his expertise to what they were calling “Christopher’s Climb.”

Barbara Hall, Lincoln Hall’s wife: Well, truthfully I saw it as an opportunity for him to fulfill a dream that he had had for 22 years.

But Lincoln’s wife Barbara also knew the risks. Fewer than 3,000 people have actually made the summit of Everest.  About 200 have died trying.

Barbara Hall:  I did say that I didn’t actually want to hear from him when he was on the summit.  Because this is fairly common now, people take a satellite phone and ring from the summit.  But I only wanted to hear when he was back down, somewhere safe.

When Lincoln left for the Himalayas, Barbara stayed home in Australia with their two teenage sons.

Lauer: Was there anything unusual in the goodbye?  I mean, did you say anything to him other than, “I don’t want to hear from you on the summit?”     Barbara Hall: I think we just all said that we wanted to see him again.  And, you know, please keep that in mind and not to take any risks, you know, it wasn’t worth it.

And Lincoln made a promise: to come back alive.

**FILE** Mount Everest, left background, seen from above Everest Base camp, Nepal, in a Monday May 26, 2003 file photo. Also seen is the Lhotse peak, right background, and the Khumbu icefall, center to bottom. When British mountaineer David Sharp collapsed on the route to the summit, dozens of people walked right past him, unwilling to risk their own ascents to ehlp. Sharp died on the mountain. (AP Photo/Gurinder Osan, File)Gurinder Osan / AP

Katmandu, Nepal was the starting point.  In mid-April, Hall and the Harrises joined up with a large commercial climbing expedition and drove to Everest base camp in Tibet—the staging area for the six week assault on the mountain.

At the same time, on the same route, a 45-year old American named Dan Mazur was leading a much smaller expedition of his own.  Mazur is one of America’s most successful high-altitude climbers.  He reached the summit of Everest in 1991.  Now he’s a professional guide. 

Lauer: You were guiding on this trip two climbers who’d never been to Everest before.Mazur: Right.Lauer: Were you worried about the risks in particular because of this trip?  Mazur: Well, you know, I worry a lot and it’s kind of my job to worry. 

Though Mazur and Hall were on parallel courses, they never met.

Mazur: Well, you know there’s a lot of people on Everest.  So no, I had never heard of Lincoln Hall.

Climbing Everest takes weeks.  Mountaineers like Mazur and Hall gradually ascend to camps at ever higher altitudes, trying to adapt their bodies to avoid altitude sickness before making the final push to the summit.

A documentary filmmaker went along with Hall’s group. Hall gave expert commentary along the way.

Lincoln Hall, documentary footage: So this is actually our final acclimatization sortie up the mountain. And the next time we go up, after a good rest, will be the real thing, when we go to the summit.

Hall’s team began to climb above advanced base camp, about 22,000 feet. But there was trouble.

Richard Harris, father of the teenage climber Chris, developed a cough so severe he couldn’t keep food down.

Hall: He just gets these coughing fits and he’s lost breakfast today, breakfast yesterday, doesn’t leave him with much of an appetite.

Unable to eat, Richard Harris became too weak to carry on. He returned to base camp at 18,000 feet.   His son Chris, the teenager, pushed on with Hall and several others, climbing to a smaller camp at 23-thousand feet.  But then Chris fell ill.

Altitude sickness is unpredictable. Chris Harris, who’d climbed some of the tallest mountains in the world, simply couldn’t breathe the thin air on Everest.  The expedition doctor ordered him back to base camp.

Hall: Well unfortunately, Christopher’s had to abort the expedition early, he’s got to go down.

The expedition they called “Christopher’s Climb” was over. Everest had dashed yet another set of hopes. 

But other climbers, like Dan Mazur, were still on track.

And so were three other members of Hall’s expedition, including Hall himself. He still had a chance to fulfill his dreams.

What no one could imagine was how quickly this push to the summit would turn deadly.

The summit of Mount Everest: For many an adventurer, it’s the ultimate prize.  Australian Lincoln Hall had tried but failed to reach it 22 years before. Now, he was back with a perfect opportunity to realize a lifelong dream.

Other, younger members of Hall’s team had already abandoned their quest for the summit due to altitude sickness.  But Hall, at age 50, was ready to go.

Lincoln Hall (documentary footage): I’m feeling really fit myself and really keen to get up there which means I probably should get on with putting some of these things in there...

He started for the summit around midnight on May 25.  Just before he left, he called his wife Barbara on a satellite phone.

Barbara Hall, Lincoln Hall's wife: He sounded very lucid.  He sounded full of anticipation, full of hope and strength. 

A bit farther down the mountain, American guide Dan Mazur was preparing his clients for their push to the summit. The weather was clear but he knew how quickly that could change on Everest.

Dan Mazur:  You know you need to be able to make a good decision about whether you should set off for the summit from the high camp. You’re always  worrying about these things, watching.

Everest does not tolerate bad decisions. The realm above 26,000 feet is called the death zone— so cold and so deprived of oxygen it’s not compatible with human life.  The mountain is dotted with corpses up there. Climbers actually have to step over some of them on the way up.

Mazur: It’s very upsetting and it’s hard to explain but you know whenever I see those people I’m not a religious person. But when I see  their bodies out on a slope I can’t help but say a prayer for them or what I think is a prayer. You know, say, “God rest their souls.”  Matt Lauer, NBC News: There but for the grace of God.Mazur: Exactly.

Mazur knew that just 10 days earlier, a British climber named David Sharp died on Everest. Forty climbers passed him by on their way to the summit.

At the time, there were many reasons given: some speculated climbers had invested too much money to stop before reaching their goal, others said the motive was simple: self-preservation— if the climbers had tried to rescue sharp at such extreme altitude, the effort could have cost them their lives.

But many seasoned mountaineers say those are poor excuses.

Mazur:  How could you sleep at night thinking that you passed somebody by who needed your help? 

Everyone on Hall’s team had also heard about David Sharp.  Hall was climbing with a large commercial expedition. Everyone on the summit push had been together for weeks and knew each other well.

One was a visually impaired climber, a German named Thomas Weber, who was using his summit bid to raise money for charity.  He was accompanied by a photographer who shot this video.  There was also a Dutch guide and five Sherpas, natives of the region who are a key part of every Everest expedition.

The final ascent is marked by three technical sections, commonly called steps.  At sea level, they’d just be moderate rock climbs.  But up in the death zone, where the lack of oxygen saps your strength and may impair your judgment—the three steps can cost you the summit or your life.

Hall and his Sherpas easily cleared the three steps.

Lauer: So did you do the math in your head, “Okay, he called me a few hours ago.  It’s probably gonna take him nine hours.  He’s probably on—" Barbara Hall: Yeah— I was heading off to work and thinking, “Oh well, he’s probably, you know, summiting soon.” 

In fact, Lincoln Hall and his Sherpas did reach the summit at about 9 a.m. on May 25.  Back at base camp, his team celebrated, but just minutes later, the news from the mountain turned grim.

A member of Hall’s team, the visually impaired climber, Thomas Weber, had fallen behind.  He never reached the summit, and now his guide radioed that Weber was having a crisis.

It was a terrible scene.  Weber suddenly turned to his guide and said, “I’m dying.”  Then he collapsed.

Just like that, a member of Lincoln Hall’s team, Thomas Weber, became another body on Everest.  And the news suddenly got even worse: the expedition leader announced that Lincoln Hall was now in trouble on his descent.

They did send another Sherpa, but that didn’t make any difference.

Lincoln was stuck at 28,000 feet.  The Harrises were 10-thousand feet below, at base camp, helpless to do anything but plead with him.

Richard (talking to Lincoln on radio): You’ve just gotta get down, mate. It’s Richard. Christopher and I are all waiting here for you. And Dorje and Dillon and Barbara, they’re all worried about you. So you just give it your best and keep coming down so you can talk to them, mate.

But Lincoln wouldn’t budge.  The Sherpas reported that he was irrational.  He wanted to lie down and go to sleep— a life-threatening move.  The Sherpas couldn’t carry him. They were too weak themselves from the lack of oxygen.  Crucial hours passed.

“Lincoln is still not moving. And the two sherpas that are with him are beginning to suffer the same problems that Lincoln is suffering, which means that the Sherpas also are now in need of rescue. Over.”

Even though Hall was breathing supplemental oxygen, he had all the symptoms of a severe form of altitude sickness—brain swelling that can cause deep fatigue, hallucinations... even death.

Back in Australia, Lincoln’s wife Barbara was just getting home from work.

Barbara Hall: I was looking forward to hearing from him.  I imagined that, you know, given that he had summited quite early in the day, he would probably phone me from the top camp—when he got down.

But there was no call from Lincoln.  She got another call instead.

Barbara Hall:  I got a message from the wife of another member of the expedition, to say that in fact he was in difficulty and still quite close to the summit.  And then, that’s when I really felt my heart sink. 

It was 7 p.m.. The Sherpas had spent nine hours trying to talk Lincoln down the mountain.  That meant a total of 19 hours exposed in the death zone.  The expedition leader knew the Sherpas were in danger of dying too.

Lincoln Hall now was lying in the snow, unconscious.  The Sherpas were running out of oxygen.  No helicopter could fly high enough to reach them.  There was only one choice left. 

Richard Harris: “It’s bad enough if Lincoln is gonna go. That these Sherpas, honestly, if they cant move Lincoln, they must leave the location and come down. Over.”

The Sherpas wanted to have no doubt so they poked Lincoln in the eyeball.  No response.  At 7:20 p.m., they declared him dead.

As night fell, the Sherpas collected Lincoln Hall’s backpack, extra oxygen, food, and water and left him at 28,000 feet, another corpse just a stone’s throw from the body of visually impaired climber Thomas Weber.

Via the Internet, word of Hall’s death instantly swept the climbing world.  A good friend called Lincoln’s wife Barbara.

Barbara Hall: His voice was broken up. He said, “I don’t know how to tell you.”  And I said, “Well, you don’t have to.” I think the worst part of what he told me was that Lincoln had only passed away 20 minutes earlier. You know, while I’d been sitting there waiting,  my husband had been dying.

Next she had to tell their sons.

Barbara Hall:  I said—“You know, I really don’t know how to tell you this but, you know, your dad’s passed away.”  And they were just stunned, completely silent. And so we all just sat there holding hands for maybe ten or 15 minutes.  And let the news sink in. 

It’s wintertime in Australia. The nights are cold.  Barbara and her sons curled up in their beds and tried to sleep.

Barbara Hall:  But we could all hear one another at different times, grieving, crying. Lauer: What’s it like, as a mother, to hear your son sobbing like that because he’s lost his dad?Hall: It’s hard to know how to comfort them and how to comfort oneself. 

Up on Mount Everest, the temperature was 15 below zero and falling by the minute.  Lincoln Hall, father, husband, mountaineer was lost to the frigid night.

Or so everyone thought.

Not far from Sydney, Australia, Lincoln Hall’s wife Barbara had just received the cruelest news—that her husband was dead and was just another icy corpse littering Everest’s death zone.

And on Everest itself, even as climbing guide Dan Mazur and his team began to videotape their own ascent, they learned of the tragedy above.

Dan Mazur: We heard that there was several people who had died and that we would be encountering their bodies.Matt Lauer, NBC News:  I’m trying to think emotionally what that must be like to be pushing for the summit, crucial moment in your own climb.  And you come around a corner and see a corpse.Mazur: It’s a horrible thing.

Mazur might have expected to find Lincoln Hall’s body at any moment. He had been climbing since midnight with two clients and a Sherpa, aiming to summit Everest mid-morning.  Now, at 7:30 a.m., the summit was just two hours away.

American mountain guide Daniel Mazur, from Olympia, Washington, talks to the Associated Press in Katmandu, Nepal, Thursday, June 8, 2006. Mazur, gave up his chance to be on top Mt. Everest just two hours from the 8,850-meter (29,035 foot) summit on the morning of May 26, to rescue a British climber Lincoln Hall, 50, who had been left a day earlier by his own guides believing he was dead. (AP Photo/ Binod Joshi)Binod Joshi / AP

Mazur: We were in the clear and we all felt good. We felt so lucky.  I mean the summit was just above us and we knew we were going there.

But before they went any further, a flash of color caught Dan’s eye.

Mazur: And I saw in the distance a little bit of yellow fabric on the ridge top and I thought, “Oh—oh what is that?  A tent or something?  And then I got a little closer and I could see that it was a person.

High on the knife-edge ridge, there was a man. Just sitting there.

Mazur: You know then I just had this sort of feeling of shock like here we go.

And as Dan approached, the scene that unfolded before him was just plain weird.

Mazur: He had his jacket—unzipped and his arms were out of the sleeves of the jacket. And so you could see his chest bare. And he looked very distressed. And then he saw me almost as if I think he thought I was part of maybe a dream that he was having.  Lauer: Did you think anyone could be up there in those conditions and still be alive?Mazur: I have never seen anything like that before. The thing that struck me was that how he was holding his hands up and he had no gloves on. You could see like his fingers had frozen and they were sort of a waxy yellow.  And then below that it looked like normal skin and he was holding up his hands like this and sort of looking around.  I was blown away.

Unbelievably the stranger spoke to him.

Mazur: He said, “I imagine you’re surprised to see me here.”  Because I probably had a look on my face of you know total shock with my jaw down you know.  I said “Can you tell me your name?”  And then he was almost sort of pleased and surprised sounding and he said, “Yeah!  Yes!  I know my name!”  And then he said, “My name is Lincoln Hall.”

Lincoln Hall? Could it really be that the same man who’d been declared dead more than 12 hours ago was alive? Dan Mazur snapped some pictures even as he began to help Hall.

Mazur: And I said, “Let’s get your gloves on.  Let’s get your hat on.  Let’s get your coat on.  Let’s get some oxygen on you.” 

Dan quickly understood Lincoln had been there all night long. It was a miracle Hall was alive—but Dan knew he didn’t have much time left.

Mazur: We gave him a lotta water.  We gave him some—candy bars, some Snickers bars and we started trying to get him to put his gloves on. I said, “Okay hold out your hand Lincoln.” And I put his glove on.  Put his other glove on.” Okay, we found his hat.  “Put your hat on.” 

But despite the biting minus 20 degree temperature, Hall resisted Dan’s efforts like an unruly child.

Mazur: And then he started taking’ his gloves off.  He started taking his hat off and unzipping his coat. And I was saying, “No. You know. 'It’s really cold out here.  Why don’t you keep those gloves on.  It looks like your hands are frozen.  Why don’t you keep your hat on.'”  Because he was also shivering really badly.

Mazur realized Hall was hallucinating.

Mazur: He thought he was on a boat ride.  He kept saying what you know, “I’m surprised you guys are on this boat ride with me.” 

And they were surprised that Lincoln was trying to get out of his imaginary boat.  In reality, he was perched on a high ridge and in danger of falling to his death.

Mazur: You gotta remember he’s on a platform like this with 8,000 feet on this side and 6,000 feet on this side. And he’s kind of like leaning back and he has his arms hanging down. The top of this 8,000-foot cliff  -- and you know he was very unstable.

Just then two more climbers making their push for the summit approached. Dan hailed them. What followed was one of those moments on Everest that defines who you are and what you believe.

Mazur: He kind of looked away.  And, he said, “I don’t speak English.”  And, he kept going.  Okay, doesn’t speak English.  I don’t know.  And, his partner came along.  And I said, “Good morning.”  And, he said, “Hi.” And, he kept going.

Dan discovered later that both climbers did speak English. It was reminiscent of what had happened to the British climber, David Sharp who had been left to die on Everest 10 days before.  Lucky for Lincoln Hall, Dan Mazur was there.

Dan and the two climbers he was guiding tied the unsteady Hall into their own climbing rope for safety.  They radioed to hall’s team at base camp—but no one there was expecting news about Hall.

Mazur: Finally they got someone who would talk on the radio and the first thing he said to me on the radio was—“You mean he’s still alive?”  And I said, “Yeah.  He’s alive.  He’s talking. He’s moving around and he needs a rescue and we need to have you guys come up here right away.”

Hall’s expedition sent a large rescue party.  But Mazur knew it would take hours to arrive.  Hours in which his own summit bid might slip away.  The top of Everest was just a thousand feet above.  Mazur turned to his clients, Andrew Brash and Myles Osborne.

Mazur: We’re just right there.  Should we go off to the summit now and leave Lincoln here?  and Myles  said, “I can’t leave him here.”

At that moment, three men’s dream of reaching the summit died so that Lincoln Hall could live.  They stayed for four hours, watching over him until the rescue team arrived. It took Hall eleven hours to  stumble two miles to safety at a camp lower on the mountain.

Lincoln Hall had been left for dead just below the summit of Everest, but because of the choice three climbers made he lived to tell the tale.

There are some things in life that simply defy reason.

Especially perhaps on Mount Everest.

Lincoln Hall had been given up for dead by experienced Sherpas who’d risked their own lives to save him.  He’d spent the night alone in sub-zero cold at 28,000 feet—no tent, no sleeping bag, no oxygen—just yards from the frozen body of another climber in his group who’d died the day before.

But he lived to tell us his story—his hands and right foot still bandaged due to severe frostbite and his voice still hoarse from the bitter cold.

Matt Lauer, NBC News: Why did you live?Lincoln Hall: Well, I guess that’s a good question.

Lincoln picks up his story of survival at the top of the world, on May 25, 9 a.m., when he stepped onto the summit of Mount Everest—a lifelong dream.

Hall: As we were approaching the summit when I knew it was there I had this feeling  of, well,  joy. Yeah. joy.  But it was sort of short lived because, you know, the summit’s only halfway. You still have to get down.

It was a thought driven home with a jolt when, during his descent from the summit, a Sherpa told him about the death of another member of his expedition, the visually impaired climber, Thomas Weber.

Hall:  It was so unexpected that I was stunned.  There’d been no sign that Thomas had been unwell or was having difficulty.  So it was an incredible shock.  And it made me just want to get down quicker than ever.

But as much as Hall wanted to hurry, he recalls that he seemed to be slowing down instead.

Lauer: You get this news now that Thomas has died.Hall:  Yeah.Lauer: And it sounds as if that almost in some ways could have triggered something in you.  Not only emotionally but physically as well.Hall: Yeah.  That’s right. I was all ready to go but then I just decided I needed to have a sleep.  And I knew I shouldn’t have a sleep.

Hall remembers reaching a tricky climb down a 100 foot rock face, the same place where Weber had collapsed and died. Hall thought it would only take him 15 minutes.

Hall: But apparently it took me a couple of hours to get down.                       Lauer: According to the sherpas you began to act in somewhat of a bizarre manner.Hall: Yeah, apparently.

But that’s the point at which hall’s memory begins to fade.

Lauer: Your brain was swelling.  You were up there for a long time.  The sherpas were trying to help you.  For several hours they were trying to see if they could get you down that portion of the mountain.Hall: Yeah, yeah.  They were really inciting me to keep going, keep moving.  “You’ve got to keep going, you’ve got to keep going.”  So I remember that part.

But Hall realized only later that after at least 19 hours in the death zone, he passed out. His sherpas were themselves running out of oxygen and had to make a quick diagnosis.

Lauer: At one point, Lincoln, the sherpas in a way of testing to see if someone is alive or dead they poked you in the eye, right in the eye.Hall: Yeah, apparently.Lauer: And apparently you had no response.Hall: Yes. And luckily my eyes seem to be fine.  So that’s good.Lauer: So that was their signal that they could leave you. Either you were already dead or you weren’t gonna survive.Hall: Yeah.Lauer: And they left you.Hall: Yeah. Given that there was nothing they could do with me really the only choice they had was to go down. I don’t remember the sherpas leaving me.  Because I’d already passed out.

Unconscious at 28,000 feet with no oxygen, no food, no water and no sleeping bag – Hall was now in the jaws of a minus 20 degree nightfall.

And yet, when night descended, there was a most extraordinary turn of events.

Lincoln Hall suddenly came to and woke up. That he was alive, was a miracle.  But he didn’t exactly feel that way.  He recalled the moment in an interview just days after his rescue.

Hall: I remember waking up with a start in the middle of the night—I don't know what time in the night, pitch black—way up high on Everest, and uh suddenly  realizing that I’d blown it.

“Blown it” because he’d promised himself he’d get back to his family alive—but now that seemed unlikely.

Hall: I could feel the snow but I couldn’t feel the snow, because my hands were freezing. I tried to feel my feet through my boots, and I could sense that they were going wooden, so I was actually freezing to the spot.Lauer: You had to look around and say this is bad.Hall: Yes.Lauer: And where is everybody?Hall: I remember thinking that, well, this was deadly serious.

But just then, Lincoln saw some people approaching. Was help arriving at last?

Hall: Where I was there were other people that I couldn’t talk to.Lauer: You could see ‘em but you couldn’t communicate with ‘em.Hall: Yeah, they were sort of in the distance.  I mean that’s a bit silly because the ridge was only this wide.  But somehow the perspective had changed.  And—so I couldn’t communicate.

The reason was simple:  the people weren’t there.  Hall was hallucinating.

All through the night he wandered in and out of delirium, never knowing what was real... except perhaps that death was creeping up on him.

Hall: It’s so easy to die in that sort of situation.  I knew that because I know people who’ve died that way.

But still he struggled to keep his promise.

Hall: I realized I was so close to dying I thought, “I can’t die.  I’ve gotta go back.  I’ve got to—I’ve got to come back to the family.”  To my wife and boys. That was a commitment that I made to myself when I decided I’d go on this expedition.  That I would come back alive.  Lauer: But Lincoln, you know what?  Mt. Everest doesn’t  give a damn about commitments you make to your family.Hall: No.Lauer: 28,000, they don’t care.  Way below zero, doesn’t care.  No oxygen.  Doesn’t care. Hall: All I can say is that I was determined to stay alive.  Lauer: How long did that night feel to you?Hall: Well, sort of timeless, actually. I was just trying to keep myself warm, just keep my core warm.  You know, holding my hands in like this across my chest.  Trying to just sort of moving, keep making sure I was moving a bit just because I thought that would stop me from going to sleep.Lauer: Did you expect to live?Hall: I told myself I had no option but to live.

And somehow...he did live through that night.

His memory is hazy but he recalls flashes of the morning  when, as he sat atop a knife-edge ridge, a group of men stopped to help him. One introduced himself as Dan Mazur.

Hall: My first memory of that meeting was Dan grabbing me and—telling me to sit down. He grabbed because he thought I was gonna fall off the  10,000 foot drop.Lauer:  Yeah, Yeah, like a 10,000 feet fall to one side, 6 or 7,000 feet to the other.

But even as Hall was being rescued his wife Barbara and their two boys still believed he was dead.

Hall:   And during the night, which wasn’t a very restful night, I dreamt he was alive. 

In Australia, Lincoln Hall’s wife Barbara had spent the last 20 hours mourning his death on Mount Everest.  She had no idea of his  astonishing survival and rescue until one of her sons read about it on the Internet and called out to her.

Barbara Hall: “Mom, you’ve gotta come and have a look at this.”  And he was really elated and I looked at it disbelieving.  I still felt some doubt, in fact.

She had more doubts a day later when the phone rang and the caller said he was her husband.

Barbara Hall: It didn’t sound at all like Lincoln. I had said several times, “Is it really you?”  And he finally heard that and said—“It is me—it is me.  And I really hope you haven’t started looking for another husband yet.”  And then I said “That’s him.” Matt Lauer, NBC News: It must have been just the most extraordinary moment.Barbara Hall: It was.  I just felt such a relief that, in fact, the person that I knew and loved was there. 

Lincoln Hall was soon back in Nepal, getting treatment for his fingertips and toes, which he may lose to frostbite.

He also thanked the man who made the decision to save his life.

Days earlier, Everest guide Dan Mazur and his two clients had been standing just two hours away from the top of the world, the prize after  years of hard work, risk and hope.  But they gave it up to save Lincoln Hall.

Lauer: He needed looking after, Dan, but there are some people who would have been in your shoes who would have  given him a couple Snickers bars, a bottle of water and left him with the oxygen and gone for the Summit.  Because you don’t get many chances.Dan Mazur:  Well that’s true but, you know, I’ve been to the summit of Everest.  I was very lucky.  And so for me, it wasn’t so bad to not go there.

But Mazur was not climbing alone.  He was guiding two men who had never climbed Everest before.  Men who’d paid him more than 20,000 dollars apiece to get to the top.

Lauer: Dan, you’re being paid by these two guys to get them to the top of Everest.Mazur:  There’s a chance they could have another opportunity but you know Lincoln Hall—I mean you only have one life. That’s it, you know.Lauer: But you know what, you could say, “There’s some people who were meant to summit Mount Everest and make it back down alive.  And there’s some people who aren’t.  And you know we passed some of those bodies on the way up and maybe this guy’s just not meant to live.”Mazur: Well all I can say is "God rests their souls" too.  You know, because I wasn’t brought up that way. I don’t remember ever thinking like, “Should we help this guy or not?”

A no-brainer for Mazur, but not for every climber on the mountain that day.

Lauer: Well, I have to tell you, some people passed you by.  Hall: Mt. Everest is a peculiar mountain because it’s gotta an importance beyond itself.  I mean it’s the world’s highest mountain.  It’s a magnificent peak.  But it’s such a symbol of adventure that  people are prepared to perhaps sacrifice everything to climb it.Lauer: Including their ethics and their morals? Hall: Yeah.Lauer: Dan and his group had the summit in their sight. They could have walked right past you. But they didn’t.  How do you feel about that?Hall: Extraordinarily grateful is an understatement because the chances are that had they not been there, I would have died. But people who are sort of committed mountaineers, those people know that the summit isn’t the most important thing. And  getting down alive is the most important thing.  And that includes getting other people down alive as well.Lauer: You were lucky that the guy who came across you was a mountaineer at heart.Hall: Yeah. Sure. Absolutely.Lauer: Dan Mazur has the summit in sight and made a decision to stop and help your husband, and gave up a chance to summit.  What do you say about that?Barbara Hall: Well, there’s one amazing human being.  And the other men with him.  And the world needs more people like that. (tearing up)

Lincoln Hall, brought back from the dead by the selflessness of others... and by his own determination to return to his family.  He remembers calling his wife—the moment he knew he was saved.

Hall: I think I was probably in tears. I said, “Look, I might be missing some bits by the time I get there.”  And she said, “It doesn’t matter what you come back with, we’ll always love you.”Lauer: Happy ending.  She's a strong lady. Hall: Yeah.  (laughs) Yep.  Strong kids.