- The Washington Times - Monday, January 9, 2006

BOSTON (AP) — First came the cracking noise, then a bit of dust from the summit of Mount Kilimanjaro. Paul Cunha’s “magnificent morning” on Africa’s highest peak was over.

“You could see some rocks starting to fall,” the 45-year-old recalled yesterday from a conference room at Massachusetts General Hospital. “People were yelling, ‘Rock, run, watch out.’”

Boulders bouncing every 100 feet or so were headed toward Mr. Cunha’s group, which included his wife, Carol, who dove to the right and escaped injury.

“My eyes caught one in particular that appeared to have my name on it,” he said. “I guess I didn’t move fast enough, or I moved enough so it just glanced off my left shoulder and pummeled me down a hill.”

Doctors today will operate to insert screws and plates to hold Mr. Cunha’s left shoulder in place.

Three hikers were killed during the rock slide on Wednesday. Betty Orrik Sapp, 63, of Melrose, Mass., and Mary Lou Sammis, 58, of Huntington, N.Y., were part of Mr. Cunha’s group from the Appalachian Mountain Club. Kristian Ferguson, 27, of Longmont, Colo., also died.

Mr. Cunha knew Mrs. Sapp and Mrs. Sammis and said they were hiking ahead of him when the rock slide started. Mr. Cunha had previously hiked with Mrs. Sapp and her husband in Ireland. William W. Sapp Jr. survived the rock slide.

Of the world’s top peaks, Kilimanjaro, in Tanzania, is considered among the easiest to scale. The climbers set out Dec. 31 on the Umbwe route, the most difficult on the mountain, which at 19,340 feet is the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Even so, the route is only a very difficult hike, not requiring safety ropes or special equipment.

Mr. Cunha, who has worked for the Appalachian Mountain Club for 25 years, estimated that his group was about 17,500 feet up when the rock slide occurred. He said the rock that hit him was the size of a 35-gallon trash can.

Knocked unconscious in the tumble, he awoke to porters examining his shoulder, which was bleeding. The top portion of his upper arm bone had been shattered, he said.

“I don’t believe I ever looked up after that point,” he said.

Tour guides walked him and his wife down the mountain for the start of what turned into a daylong journey to a Nairobi hospital. He arrived in Boston on Friday night.

Mr. Cunha hopes to be home in Jefferson, N.H., by the end of the week.

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