Finding student Sonja on Cave Hill changed my life, says brave rescuer
A jogger who found a student who lay injured on Cave Hill for more than 24 hours has spoken of the close bond the pair have formed and how the incident inspired him to reach out and help others.
David McCrum found the student after she fell to the bottom of a cliff from an area known as Napoleon's Nose and was stranded outside in the freezing cold overnight in November.
Sonja Klingler, a 20-year-old Queen's University student, told her rescuers she had been there for over a day.
David and his friend Richard Lamont, who were out jogging, raised the alarm after they came across her purse.
After finding a QUB student card, Richard contacted the university. It raised their concerns, as she had failed to turn up for class.
David returned to Cave Hill to the same area and located a coat and hat. He found the young student a short time later and she was airlifted to hospital for emergency treatment.
The north Belfast man has recently embarked on a marathon challenge to raise money for Air Ambulance Northern Ireland.
The 37-year-old is climbing 12 mountains across Ireland in a bid to raise funds for the vital service.
He also revealed that the famous adventurer Bear Grylls, a Co Down man, reached out to Sonja to wish her well during her recovery at her home in south Germany.
Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, David said that seeing Sonja grasping for her life that day has inspired him to help others.
"Finding Sonja has had a massive impact on me, wanting to better myself and engage in volunteer work," he said.
"Sonja has inspired me and changed so much in my life and how I see things, including family life. Seeing a young girl grasping for her life in her early 20s has shown me how lucky we all are.
"As soon as I met her in Cave Hill, there was a bond there."
David explained how he spent a couple of sleepless nights worrying about the young student following the accident and how he contacted the hospital to try and find out about her recovery.
After speaking to her mother, David went to the Royal Victoria Hospital to meet the family.
"We exchanged phone numbers and addresses. We still keep in contact and even if I don't hear from Sonja, her sister or mother will contact me and send me photos. They are like another family to me, she is like a sister now. Even now she is so strong, because she is going through so much. I have learned so much from her, she is so young and well educated. It drives me on to do things for the better.
"She underwent another back operation in Germany after her first one in Belfast. She is a warrior and I could see it that day on Cave Hill, there wasn't a whimper out of her."
David and his friends have already climbed Slieve Binnian, Slieve Donard and Slieve Commedagh and they plan to travel to Leinster to complete another gruelling mountain climb.
He added: "We all have our different reasons and personal issues for climbing the mountains - one is carrying a bit of weight, the other wants a new lease of life."
- For more information, visit justgiving.com/crowdfunding/ sherpa-mccrum