Nepal quake: Cowichan’s Versteeg trying to get home

Cowichan Valley filmmaker Nick Versteeg is counting his blessings after making it unscathed through the devastating earthquake that struck Nepal last Saturday, killing more than 5,000.

"He felt like the luckiest man alive," Versteeg’s wife, Elly Driessen, said Monday, having spoken to her husband a couple of times since the quake.

Driessen had been in Nepal with Versteeg, where he was documenting the work of Duncan’s Susan Marshall with the Nepal Education Fund. Driessen went home, while Nick remained in Nepal and travelled with a friend, primarily with the intention of filming a Seattle-based dentist who is helping widows and orphans of Sherpas in the Mount Everest area.

Versteeg took a flight from Kathmandu to Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla, the nearest airfield to Everest base camp, also described as the "scariest airport in the world." From there, he hiked two days to Namche Bazaar, a village known as the hub for Everest exploration. After that, he walked another day to the smaller village of Khumjung, where he filmed the Seattle dentist at work for five days and took a side trek to Everest base camp. He called Driessen on a satellite phone from Everest base camp last Wednesday.

"He said he had never filmed such beauty in his life, and that the people were very different; they were all very friendly," Driessen said.

When the earthquake struck last Saturday, Versteeg was back in Namche Bazaar. "He said it was unbelievable," Driessen said. "He had never been so scared in his life."

After the initial quake, Versteeg had time to eat lunch, and had just left a building when an aftershock hit, destroying the building he had been eating in, as it did to many other structures throughout the country.

"Infrastructure there just doesn’t exist," Driessen noted.

The Everest base camp, where Versteeg had been just days before, was struck by an avalanche, and reports Monday said at least 19 were killed there.

Versteeg and his friend were reunited with the dentist and their guide in Namche Bazaar. They then took a helicopter to Lukla, which Driessen acknowledges was certainly expensive, but better than trying to walk back. Versteeg was in Lukla as of Monday morning, waiting for a flight to Kathmandu.

He had been scheduled to fly from Kathmandu to Vancouver on Friday, but when he might be able to leave Nepal now is anyone’s guess. The airlines, Driessen said, have been accommodating of the situation, but if planes can’t leave, that doesn’t make a difference.

"He can’t wait to be home, but what can he do?" Driessen said. "If he can get to the airport in Kathmandu, then what happens? He might have to sleep for three days in the airport.

"He’s very lucky he’s safe and fine. We have to take it as it comes."

See page 4 for thoughts from Duncan’s Susan Marshall, who returned from Nepal just a week before the quake hit Saturday.