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– Emotions ran high for family after Palos Hills native is rescued in Nepal

  • Written by Dermot Connolly

Days of worry by family and friends were followed by jubilation when Palos Hills native Corey Ascolani, was rescued by U.S. Special Forces helicopters after being trapped for five days in earthquake-ravaged Nepal.

“I can’t tell you how good it was just to be able to talk to him today. The emotions are still very high,” said his mother, Christine Bregar on Saturday. “For two days, we didn’t even know he was alive.”

Ascolani, 34, a 1998 Stagg High School graduate, had moved to Barcelona, Spain, to teach English, about 18 months ago. But after his rescue, his family was looking forward to welcoming him back to the southwest suburbs sometime this week.

Bregar, and Corey’s older brother, Damon Ascolani of Lemont, said Corey and a friend, Paul Franklin, also a Stagg alumnus were considering climbing Mt. Everest later this year, and he had gone hiking in Nepal to lay the groundwork.

When the 7.8 magnitude earthquake shook the mountainous Himalayan country on April 25,  he was hiking with 26 others in Langtang National Park, a 660 square mile reserve about 90 miles from the capital of Kathmandu. But his family and friends in Illinois were not exactly sure where he was.

“We knew he was in Nepal, but we weren’t sure if he was in Kathmandu, or out on the hike already.  He had also visited a monastery. His itinerary hadn’t been set,” Damon said.

“He is an adventurer. Using Barcelona as a base, he had already been to Switzerland and walked the El Camino,” he added, referring to the trek across northern Spain that attracts people from around the world.

Bregar, who lives in downstate Lacon near Peoria, credited Damon, Franklin and Mike Dettlaff - all Stagg graduates -- with using social media to coordinate the efforts to rescue Corey and the group of people he was with. Damon said that he and the other friends used Facebook to keep in touch, and get a general idea of where Corey was.

Damon said that two days after the earthquake, Corey was able to use someone’s satellite phone to send a text message to their mother. Bregar said that when she got the first text message, she wasn’t sure if someone who heard about the case was playing a cruel prank, and asked for confirmation to ensure it really was her son. “When he said as my favorite son, I knew it was him, because he always jokes about that,” she said.

They were eventually all able to speak to him, and from the satellite phone, got the coordinates of where the group was and send for help.

In phone interviews conducted since his rescue, while at the U.S. embassy in Nepal, Corey thanked the U.S. forces for rescuing his group, which included people from several different countries.

He said there were landslides following the earthquake, but his group was in an area where they could see the rocks coming and get out of the way. In a radio interview, he also said the group was able to clear and mark three makeshift helipads for the rescue helicopters to land.

Damon Ascolani said that since his rescue, Corey had been staying at the U.S. embassy in Kathmandu, and helping with the recovery efforts as much as possible until flights out became available. According to the latest figures on Tuesday, at least 7,000 people have died in the quake, and thousands more are missing.

Coincidentally, Ascolani was not the only Stagg alumnus rescued following the earthquake. Tinley Park resident Rob Besecker and his sister, Chris Griffin, were also there, and came home earlier this week.

Besecker, who has muscular dystrophy and atrial fibrillation, had just left Mount Everest’s base camp and was in the town of Luka when the ground shook. His older sister was there for support, but had become ill on the climb and was taken by helicopter back to  Kathmandu before the quake.