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Mt. Washington Avalanche Survivor Shares Story

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BOSTON (CBS) – For the first time we’re hearing the frightening story of a former Marine, swept away in a Mt. Washington avalanche earlier this month. Despite losing a leg in combat, the Marine’s training helped him survive.

“I remember just hearing the voices yell avalanche,” says Keith Zeier. It was supposed to be a challenging yet fun hike for the experienced climber, a former Marine who lost a leg in an explosion in Iraq. He and 11 others were making the ascent up the northeast’s highest peak when disaster hit. “I remember seeing the avalanche and when my eyes opened, sliding down, but it still feels like a surreal type thing,” he says.

Keith and the two other climbers on his rope team were hit the hardest. All were hurt, and the cold was bitter. “It was either sit there and freeze, or crawl out to safety. So we ended up sliding and crawling over two and a half hours,” he remembers. The closeness between the friends kept them going. “Making sure you’re making eye contact. Is the person still there? Are they getting hypothermic. Just taking care of each other,” says Zeier.

They eventually found a trail and were rescued. “I suffered a brief loss of consciousness so I had a slight concussion. I ended up tearing my rotator cuff,” he says. And he can’t move the fingers on his right hand. But Keith and the other climbers count their blessings. “There were times where it was like, yeah, this may definitely be it. But at that point it wasn’t our time, and once again, I got another chance,” he says.

Keith and the others were making the climb to raise money for families of service men and women lost in Iraq and Afghanistan through an organization called “Ascents of Honor.” All the climbers survived and are expected to fully recover.

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