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‘Extremely fit’ Welsh Everest climber died of altitude sickness, inquest hears

26 Jan 2023 3 minute read
Kellinu Portell planned to climb Mount Everest

An “extremely fit” father-of-two died due to altitude sickness while attempting to climb Mount Everest to raise money for charity, an inquest has heard.

Kellinu Portelli, 54, died at the Himalayan Chain Resort in Lobuche, Nepal, a few hours away from the Everest base camp, on October 29 2019.

The marathon runner from Cardiff planned to climb the mountain to raise funds for the Marie Curie charity, which provides support and care for people with terminal illnesses.

At South Wales Central Coroner’s Court on Thursday, Coroner David Regan delivered a narrative conclusion that Mr Portelli died as a result of high-altitude sickness while trekking in Nepal.

Post-mortem examinations were carried out in Nepal and the UK and Mr Regan said his medical cause of death was “high-altitude pulmonary edema”.

There was no evidence that alcohol, injury or a disease process within his body caused his death, the coroner said.

The inquest heard that he had felt unwell the day before he died but that he told his guide, who twice took readings of his blood oxygen levels, that he wanted to continue their gradual ascent.

The next morning, he was found dead in his hotel room.

Mr Regan read a witness statement given by Mr Portelli’s wife Donna, which said he “was a very fit person” who had completed “seven or eight marathons” in the decade before his death, as well as other training, stressing he was “very well prepared”.

She said he had his annual medical a few weeks before embarking on the Himalayan trek, which found he had the “lung capacity of a 30-year-old”.

Passionate

She later told the inquest he was “one of the most passionate men I have ever met”, adding: “His death has left an unfathomable hole in our lives that at best is hard to bear and at worst excruciatingly painful beyond words.”

She continued: “He was extremely fit, strong and extraordinarily well-prepared for his trek both physically and emotionally.

“As he’d undertaken so many marathons he was used to taking his body to its limits and beyond.”

She said that feeling unwell “would not have deterred him” and he would have “powered through”, adding: “The result of this ended in unforeseen tragedy”.

The coroner said: “The circumstances of his death are that he had a background history of being an extremely fit marathon runner who had prepared for trekking at altitude in Nepal.

“I’m entirely satisfied that there is no evidence that Kellinu was subject to any injury caused by anyone else causing his death and there is no evidence of any disease process within his body causing his death.

“I’m left with the circumstances of the sudden death of an otherwise fit and healthy individual in a closed hotel room which needed to be broken into by his guide in circumstances of arduous trekking from days before at height.

“The appropriate cause of death for me to return is 1A high-altitude pulmonary edema expressed in medical terms.

“That narrative conclusion will identify and conclude that Kellinu Portelli died as a result of high-altitude sickness while trekking in Nepal.”


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