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Nine Climbers Have Died on Mount Everest This Year; Hiker Found After 17 Days in Hawaii Forest: I Chose Life; V.P. Mike Pence Honors Fallen at Memorial Day Ceremony at Arlington. Aired 11:30a-12p ET

Aired May 27, 2019 - 11:30   ET


[11:30:00] RYAN NOBLES, CNN ANCHOR: Joining me now with the details is CNN senior international correspondent, Arwa Damon.

Arwa, what are you learning about this increase in deaths?

ARWA DAMON, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, Ryan, that photograph, those photographers that you're referring to, that long trail of people, that was taken in an area that's known as the death zone. It's the last push to get to the summit. And it's called that for a very good reason, because there's so little oxygen there. When you breathe, you take in just a third of the oxygen you would take in at sea level. Your body is literally deteriorating.

What a lot of these climbers suffered from was the fact that they weren't able to get back down once they had actually summited.

And we spoke earlier to Mostafa Salameh, a very experienced Jordanian mountaineer. He's done the seven of seven. He's gone to both poles. Here's what he had to say about this year's climbing experience.


MOSTAFA SALAMEH, JORDANIAN MOUNTAINEER: I think coming down is going to be a nightmare, because everyone -- when you come to a hill or a steppe, there's one way to go. If you want to go down, you have to wait. People have been waiting for hours. This is my biggest worry: 90 percent of people die on the way down. A friend of mine summited, a Bulgarian who summited, came down, went to his tent, slept, he never got up.



DAMON: He never woke up?

SALAMEH: No, he never woke up.

And you do need to know, there's so much safety measurement as well that you have to take. I always believe you need to have a bottle of oxygen with you because, if anything happened, you could help yourself.


DAMON: So, Ryan, there's a number of factors that have actually come into play this climbing season. Weather that shortened the days that people could actually summit to a limited number that causes a big rush to try to go to the summit. There's also an issue of an increase in inexperienced climbers who don't necessarily know how to read their own bodies or figure out how to take those very calculated risks. Then, of course, there's this whole issue of overcrowding.

NOBLES: So, Arwa, is there any responsibility by local government officials to try and rein some of this in? It seems like these issues you're talking about deserve some level of regulation. Are officials taking any accountability for the fact that there's been this spike in deaths?

DAMON: Look, officials are saying, first of all, that this increase in deaths was not because of this backlog. Mountaineers will dispute that, because the backlog caused a wait in this death zone of anywhere from two to four hours. If you're not prepared, your body is not necessarily be able to handle it.

Government officials are saying that, this year -- they don't yet have the final count -- 600 people made it to the summit. They're saying, over the past few years, they've actually only been issuing permits to people who are able to prove that they have sufficient experience.

But a number of mountaineers we've spoken to say that the government needs to take on more responsibility, needs to figure out ways to better regulate what's happening. But at the same time, climbers themselves need to be more responsible, need to be more aware of their own limitations and what their body can or can't handle.

NOBLES: There's a reason that it is one of the most prized efforts by climbers, because it is so difficult. And you're right, there are so many people that go into this situation with not necessarily knowing exactly what to expect.

Arwa Damon, thank you for your terrific reporting there. We appreciate it.

A woman who survived for 17 days in a Hawaiian forest is out of the hospital. And the volunteers who rescued her are sharing the story of how they found her.

Amanda Eller went on a hike on May 8th on a different path than usual. When she couldn't find her way back to her car, her focus switched to surviving until someone found her.


AMANDA ELLER, LOST HIKER FOUND AFTER 17 DAYS: The last 17 days of my life have been the toughest days of my life. And there were times of total fear and loss and wanting to give up. It did come down to life and death, and I had to choose. And I chose life. I wasn't going to take the easy way out.


NOBLES: Not going to take the easy way out.

Joining me now with more on this incredible story is CNN correspondent, Paul Vercammen.

Paul, how exactly was she found?

PAUL VERCAMMEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, they found her, Ryan, with tenacity and some good mapping. They were scouring the Maui wilderness in a helicopter, looking carefully at streams and waterfalls, knowing she would try to be near life-sustaining water. And when they finally did spot her, euphoria. They celebrated with so much gusto that the helicopter shook.


JAVIER CANTELLOPS, VOLUNTEER RESCUE WORKER: A lot of her survival has to do with who she is, her experience, her knowledge of the vegetation. But in reality, her physical therapy, her expertise in the human anatomy.

CHRIS BERQUIST, VOLUNTEER RESCUE WORKER: And the body can do a lot but the will and the spirit can do a lot more. And she was definitely out there long enough that somebody with a lesser spirit to live may not have made it out. Staying by water definitely helped us out a lot in finding her.


[11:35:09] VERCAMMEN: And Amanda Eller's friends tell me that she is in good spirits right now, although she was undergoing very painful treatments for those severe sunburns. And she is eternally grateful.


ELLER: Seeing the way that the community of Maui came together, people that know me, people that don't know me, all came together just with the idea of helping one person make it outside of the woods alive, it just warms my heart. And just seeing the power of prayer and the power of love when everybody combines their efforts is incredible. It can move mountains.


VERCAMMEN: Those two rescuers, one was an Army Ranger, the other a volunteer firefighter with a lot of survival skills -- Ryan?

NOBLES: What a great finish to this story.

Paul Vercammen, thank you so much for bringing it to us. We appreciate it.

Coming up, a House Democrat says they're moving closer to impeachment proceedings for President Trump. But are Democratic leaders on board? We'll talk about that, next. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[11:40:49] MIKE PENCE, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: "Should I go under, I want you to know I went without any terror of death and that my chief worries, the grief my death will bring to those so dear to me." And then he ended, saying, "I feel wonderfully strong to do my share well for my sake. You must try and drown your sorrow in the pride and satisfaction that I died well, in so clean a cause as ours." He ended, "God bless and keep you, my dear heart, and be kind to little Elizabeth. I love you so well, David."

Today, we remember the service and sacrifice of Sergeant David Kerr.

William Robinson Evans Jr was born in Indiana in 1918. He was an Eagle Scout. After graduating from college in Connecticut, he enlisted in the Navy's Reserve Officer Pilot Program. He earned his wings of gold and was commissioned as an ensign in May of 1941. In September, he was assigned to a torpedo squadron on the "USS Hornet." And at 23, he was one of the squadron's youngest pilots.

On the 4th of June 1942, 15 torpedo planes from his squadron went into battle against overwhelming numbers of enemy fighters and they were all shot down. But their sacrifice and their courage that day helped change the course of world history. Ensign Evans received the Navy Cross posthumously for his heroism during the air battle of Midway.

Two months before he was lost, he wrote to a friend these words: "Many of my friends are now dead. To a man, each died with a nonchalance that each would have denied was courage. If anything greater good is born of this war, it should not be valued in the colonies we may win or the pages historians will attempt to write but rather in the youth of our country, who never trained for war, rather almost never believed in war, but who from some hidden source have brought forth gallantry, which is homespun, it is so real."

Then he said, "I say these things because I knew you liked and understood, boys, and I wanted you to know they have not let you down."

Today, we remember the service and sacrifice of Ensign Bill Evans Jr.


PENCE: John Floyd Cochran was born in Michigan in 1941. First Lieutenant Cochran served in the 409th Radio Unit in Vietnam. He led a platoon. And a man who served under him would say four decades later that he was one great guy.

Lieutenant Cochran fell to sniper fire on the 24th of October 1966, just six days before he was scheduled to meet his wife in Hawaii on R&R.

In his final letter home, he wrote to his mom and dad these words: "Tonight, I'm awaiting an attack. Yes, that's right. Your only son, who you didn't raise to be stupid, is 11,000 miles away from home, sitting beneath a shaded Coleman lantern on top of a hill waiting for a visit from our friend, Charlie.

He later wrote, "I know why I'm here and why I couldn't be any other place." He said, "I do believe that basic principles are enough for men to die for. We are here because we actually believe that our country is good enough to fight for and if necessary to die for."


[11:45:18] PENCE: Today, we remember the service and sacrifice of First Lieutenant John Cochran.


PENCE: Three men, three wars. And as we recall their sacrifices, we cannot help but be inspired by their courage. And make no mistake about it, their example is inspiring a new generation of heroes every day.

Paul Kelly was actually the son of a Vietnam fighter pilot. He was commissioned in 1982 as an officer through the University of Dayton's ROTC program. Served in leadership positions with the Army National Guard.

Colonel Paul Kelly was a man who built up all those who served around him. He was known as a dedicated husband whose wife, Maria, and a proud father of his two sons, John and Paul David Kelly. He was nicknamed "the Senator" because he was always shaking soldiers' hands no matter what their rank. He was a helicopter pilot. But he was a man in the stick on 20th of January 2007 when he was lost in Iraq.

Ten years later, on July 20th, 2017, 10 years after his father died in Iraq, his son, Paul David Kelly, enlisted in the Virginia National Guard. And Private Paul David Kelly, his brother John, and his wonderful mother, Maria, are here with us today.


PENCE: You honor us with your presence. Your family's three generations of service are an inspiration to us all.

These stories of heroes we know from beginning to end. But it's important on this Memorial Day to remember that, for some families of our fallen, there's an added burden. The burden of having their loved one resting in a place known but to God.

Last year on this solemn occasion, our president promised that we would never stop searching for the servicemen and women who remain missing from wars and conflicts fought over the past century. And we have never stopped.

Last June, in his first historic summit in Singapore, with Chairman Kim Jong-Un, President Trump had our missing fallen on his heart. And as he began negotiations for the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, President Donald Trump also secured a promise for the return of the remains of all fallen U.S. servicemembers lost in North Korea. (APPLAUSE)

PENCE: In August of last year, at Hickam Field in Hawaii, it was our honor to be present when 55 flag-draped coffins bearing the remains of Americans who fought in the Korean War returned to American soil.

And I must tell you, for this son of a combat veteran of the Korean War, I will never be given a higher honor than to have been present when our boys were finally coming home.


PENCE: Some remains have within identified but more work remains. This is just the beginning. But I can assure you and assure all the familiar lives our missing fallen, that we will never rest until every soldier is accounted for and resting on American soil.


[11:50:17] So to the families of the fallen here and looking on, who sacrificed more than we can comprehend, know that the hearts of every American are with you today and that they will stay with you every day as will our prayers.

We mourn with those who mourn and grieve with those who grieve, but we do not grieve like those who have no hope because our faith gives us hope and heroes give us hope. For no greater love does a man than this, that he should lay down his life for his friends.

Today, on Memorial Day, we honor Americans who showed no greater love for the American people.


PENCE: We can never repay the debt of gratitude we owe to the men and women who have given their all to preserve our freedom, but we can honor them, remember them, and cherish their families. And this we will do, not just this day but every day.

And so long as our nation continues to produce men and women of such selfless courage and patriotism, I know that freedom will ring for ourselves and our posterity.

Their duty was to serve. Our duty is to remember. This Memorial Day, let every American renew our commitment to do our duty, to never fail, never fail to remember what they have done for us, and never fail to honor and cherish the families they have left behind, and never fail to strive each and every day to be worthy of the freedom that they won for us all.

May God bless our heroic fallen. May those who mourn our heroes be comforted until he wipes every tear from their eyes. May God bless the men and women of our armed forces. And may God bless America.

(APPLAUSE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ladies and gentlemen, please remain standing for

the playing of "Taps" and the benediction. And also please remain standing for the singing of "Amazing Grace," performed by the American National Chorus.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Receive the benediction. Go into the world to preserve peace. Remember the wisdom that we have learned and be courageous.

NOBLES: You're watching live coverage of the Memorial Day honoring at Arlington National Cemetery. And that was Vice President Mike Pence speaking.

[11:55:02] We're going to take a quick break and be back. Thank you.


[12:00:09] JOHN KING, CNN HOST: Welcome to a special Memorial Day edition of INSIDE POLITICS. I'm John King.