Amador County wedding photographer survives Nepal quake

Kelly Churchill had been checking her cell phone regularly, looking for updates from her husband as he made final preparations to photograph a wedding next Thursday on Mount Everest.

At 5:40 a.m. Saturday, Charleton Churchill checked in with a text and began posting on Twitter and Facebook.

“He posted that he had been through a 7.9 (magnitude) earthquake but he was okay,” Kelly Churchill said from the couple’s Jackson home Saturday night, where she had been following updates about the massive quake that struck Kathmandu, Nepal, killing more than 1,800 people and setting off an avalanche on Mount Everest.

“Keep us in your prayers,” Charleton Churchill wrote in Twitter in a series of social media updates Saturday. “We are in Nepal, in the Himalayas, the #NepalEarthquake hit hard, porters lost their homes, yaks and hikers died.”

Churchill, a 40-year-old hiker who his wife says has climbed Mount McKinley twice, was making his first trip to Mount Everest to shoot a wedding for a couple from Colorado.

He landed in Kathmandu on Tuesday after 27 hours of flying, according to a Facebook post, for a wedding shoot that was to take place high up Mount Everest at a camp.

Churchill, who shoots weddings throughout Northern California and is listed on the fearlessphotographers.com website, is an adventurer, his wife said, but his Mount Everest foray was to be his biggest challenge yet.

By Saturday morning, his Facebook posts gave a glimpse of what was happening a half a world away.

“We definitely felt it, not just the shaking of this entire village but the rumbling sound that followed, people screaming, jumping out of windows, sirens going off,” he wrote in a post. “(S)ome of the building I’m staying in started to collapse 2 doors down, some of the buildings are not safe anymore, people running for open area, rocks tumbled down.”

Kelly Churchill, 36, said her husband of 15 years was meeting with others Saturday night Sacramento time to develop a plan for what to do next, but she noted that his group had flown into the airport at Kathmandu, where the city was devastated.

“We are all okay, have food and water, we are packed and ready with passports in case there is an emergency,” he wrote. “We are feeling aftershocks which is a bit unsettling, but they are minor compared to the original shake. Mountain madness and their porters and staff have shown great leadership and the group is in good hands. Tomorrow we may plan to hike the trail up to 12,600 feet to a safer flat area and decide then what we will do as a team. Continue to pray for safety.”

In a later update, he noted, “Half the group is still in shock, very emotional for many. Safety is our main concern at this time. Staying strong here.”

News accounts from the area indicated that at least 18 people had died high above Churchill at a base camp hit by an avalanche after the quake, including Google executive Dan Fredinburg.

Churchill’s posts indicated he was below the area of the mountain that was hardest hit.

The couple has three daughters, ages 11, 8 and 6, and Kelly Churchill said that when she spoke to her husband on the phone “he was in good spirits.”

“We have pretty big faith,” she said, “so I have no doubt that God’s had his hands on him.”

Call The Bee’s Sam Stanton, (916) 321-1091.

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