DENVER (CBS4) – After surviving a near-fatal helicopter crash in the Iraq War, Matt Nyman fought back and climbed mountains like a warrior. Big mountains.
He died Feb. 2 in Alaska. He and two colleagues perished in an avalanche.READ MORE: Weekend Avalanche Deaths In The Backcountry Bring Total To 10 Fatalities In Colorado This Season
He returned home to Colorado Friday.
After a life of hard work and determination, friends and family plan to provide him his final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Because of pandemic-caused delays, that may take months or even years, a friend of Nyman’s told CBS4. In the meantime, they will honor Nyman at a service this Saturday in Centennial. He was 43 and a Centennial resident.
Sgt. First Class Nyman was a member of the U.S. Army’s elite Delta Force. He was deployed to Afghanistan in 2002 and Iraq in 2005. During that latter tour, debris flew into the rotors and his aircraft went down while attempting to land on the roof of a building.
“I was sitting on the outside of the helicopter when it crashed,” Nyman explained in his The Heroes Project profile.
As a result, Nyman’s lower right leg was amputated and his left foot crushed. He also suffered injuries to his back and lungs, and a severe head injury.
And that’s when he began his climbing career — as an extension of his rehab.
To say he recovered physically and professionally is an understatement.
Nyman joined a group of other wounded warriors in Golden in 2010. They all had wounds, some visibly evident, some unseen. One former soldier was blind.READ MORE: Skiers, Snowboarders 'Pushing The Envelope' In Colorado's Backcountry
They got their climbing feet wet, figuratively speaking, at St. Mary’s Glacier in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.
Months later, the group’s training culminated in a summiting of 20,075-foot Lobuche in Mt. Everest’s shadow. Their journey was featured in the 2012 documentary “High Ground”
The seed was planted, and Nyman developed into an accomplished mountaineer. He added Denali (20,308 feet in elevation in Alaska), Elbrus (18,510, Russia), Kilimanjaro (19,341, Africa), Aconcagua (22,841, Argentina), and Gran Paradiso (13,323, Italy) to his tally. He was, in fact, on track to climb the tallest peak on each continent.
“I would have never known the depth of Matt’s strength, determination, mental toughness and willingness to never give up had I not had the pleasure of climbing with him in Colorado and Nepal,” Colorado resident and “High Ground” co-producer Matt Murray told CBS4. “He was probably the toughest person I’ve ever met and I’m grateful for being able to spend the time with him that I did.”
Nyman’s continued special operations and intelligence work with the military immediately after his injury. But those skills morphed in commercial success. Nyman eventually oversaw the cyber-security center for Mastercard, as mentioned in a 2018 New York Times article.
In terms of philanthropy, Nyman was a board member of the Endangered Species Protection Agency, which helps reduce poaching of critically endangered animals across Africa. He also continued to support the outdoor-oriented recovery of other injured veterans through the Adaptive Grand Slam.
Nyman was climbing a couloir, or chute, on the difficult north face of Bear Mountain, located 10 miles north of Anchorage in Chugach State Park, when the snowslide hit. A local man, 54-year-old Thomas Devine, was leading Nyman and 50-year-old Edward Watson, of Miami, to the top. None were wearing avalanche beacons or personal locator beacons. Rescuers found their bodies the next morning.
It’s the first time so many lives were lost in the same avalanche in the park, according to an Anchorage Daily News article.
A GoFundMe page has been established to help pay for Nyman’s funeral expenses.