The husband of a woman who died climbing Mount Everest earlier this month says he blames himself for her death, the Guardian reports. In an interview with Network Seven in Australia, Robert Gropel says wife Maria Strydom seemed exhausted from climbing when they were just 15 minutes from the peak. "I asked: 'Do you mind if I go on,' and she said: 'Yes, you go on, I’ll wait for you here,'" says Gropel. "From that position the summit didn’t look that far." Not realizing that she was suffering from altitude sickness, which can be lethal, Gropel kept climbing to the top of the world. "I just ran up and down and it didn’t mean anything to me," he adds. "When I made it to the summit of Everest it wasn’t special to me, because I didn’t have her there."
When he got back and they began descending, 34-year-old Strydom had trouble walking and talking and even hallucinated, possibly due to a stroke brought on by cerebral edema. Gropel says he gave her altitude-sickness medication and the Independent reports sherpas gave her additional oxygen, but she got worse overnight and died in his arms 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," says the Australian. "I still can’t look at any pictures of her because it breaks my heart." Both vegans, Gropel and Strydom hoped to show the world "that vegans can do anything and more," Strydom said in March. Initially left behind, Strydom's body has been picked up by helicopter and flown to Kathmandu. (Meanwhile, her mother isn't satisfied by the official story.)