• World

Australian Woman Who Died on Mount Everest Was 15 Minutes From Summit

2 minute read

An Australian woman who died on Mount Everest last week after developing altitude sickness fell ill just 15 minutes short of reaching the summit, and her husband said Sunday that reaching the top “didn’t mean anything” without her beside him.

Maria Strydom, 34, had set out to climb the mountain with her husband to prove that “vegans can do anything.” In an interview with the Seven Network on Sunday, her husband, Robert Gropel, said he continued on to the summit after she became ill.

“I asked, ‘Do you mind if I go on,’ and she said, ‘Yes, you go on, I’ll wait for you here,’” he said. “From that position the summit didn’t look that far, 15 minutes away. When I made it to the summit of Everest it wasn’t special to me, because I didn’t have her there. I just ran up and down and it didn’t mean anything to me.”

Read more: Mount Everest Climber: ‘Don’t Try to Reach the Summit at All Costs’

On the way down the mountain, Strydom began to struggle to walk and speak. She improved after being given medication and oxygen, but then she collapsed and couldn’t be revived, the Guardian reported. She died on May 20.

“I’m her husband, it’s my job to protect my wife and get her home and it’s just natural for me to blame myself,” Gropel said during the Sunday interview. “I still can’t look at any pictures of her because it breaks my heart.”

More Must-Reads From TIME

Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com