An Israeli mountaineer who rescued a Turkish climber who collapsed near the peak of Mount Everest in May received the Presidential Medal of Honor from President Shimon Peres on Tuesday.
"You were trying to reach a geographical summit and you found a human summit," Peres told Nadav Ben-Yehuda, 24, during a ceremony at the President's Residence in Jerusalem. "You risked your life to save another human being," Peres added.
The Israeli climber was only 300 meters away from reaching the Everest peak before he noticed his Turkish friend Aydin Irmak lying unconscious on the frozen ground.
Ben-Yehuda with President Peres (Photo: Mark Neiman, GPO)
Had he reached the summit, Ben-Yehuda would have been the youngest Israeli to conquer the world's highest peak.
Ben-Yehuda's suffered severe frostbite during the rescue, and doctors initially feared his fingers would have to be amputated. "Today I feel much better and the threat of amputation has been removed," he said during Tuesday's ceremony.
"Last week I marked the three-month anniversary of the injury by giving someone the finger," he said.
Addressing the presidential citation he received, Ben-Yehuda said "I'm very excited and do not regret not reaching the summit. If someone is alive today because of me, and my hand (was not amputated), then it was worth it."
Ben-Yehuda, a resident of Rehovot, served in an elite Golani Brigade unit. "Now I am training for my next climb," he said. "In three days I will be traveling to Georgia for a climb. Hopefully I won’t encounter any difficulties that will force me to stop midway."
Despite the ordeal, the Israeli hero has not given up on his dream of conquering Mount Everest. "We'll see what the future holds," he said, "maybe our paths will cross one day."