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Human Interest

Woman Honors Husband Whose Tragic Death on Argentina Mountain Was Captured on Video

Updated

Amber Christensen and Federico Campanini on their wedding anniversary in 2008 / Amber Christensen

Amber Christensen watched her husband die over and over again as she replayed the video that has since haunted both her dreams and waking hours.

In roughly 50-below zero temperatures, Federico Campanini was 22,300 feet above sea level on the Aconcagua mountain — the tallest mountain outside of Asia — on Jan. 8, 2009, when he died from Pulmonary edema, a condition caused by excess fluid in the lungs.

Campanini’s death was captured on video, which was leaked and published on YouTube. On the recording, Amber saw a team of rescuers by her husband’s side. Initially, she blamed them for not doing more to save her husband of three years, but eventually turned her anger into forgiveness.

“Nothing is going to bring him back,” she tells PEOPLE. “So I decided I had to find a way to do something positive with it.”

She left her home in Salt Lake City and flew to the mountain where her husband died and waited for workers to thaw his body and arranged his cremation.

“It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do,” she recalls. “He was on that mountain, but I couldn’t see him.”

Amber and Federico, a professional mountain climber, met in 2002 after she was brutally bitten by a dog while traveling through Argentina and forced to change her travel plans. They ended up meeting on the very mountain where he died. Amber says they fell in love just days after they met and then got married in 2005.

Amber Christensen
Amber Christensen

“It’s hard to believe it, but we really knew that we’d be together after that,” she says.

As she began to move forward after his death, she found herself grieving once again that following November when her mother committed suicide.

“I pushed her away after his death because she was depressed,” she says. “So of course, I blamed myself for what happened.”

After mourning both of their loses – which she still struggles with today – Amber decided she had to create some positive “out of something so horribly negative.”

She wrote a book, The Path of 8, which is about her journey through love, grief and acceptance, and started the El Fede Campanini Foundation in July 2009. One year after his death, she returned to the mountain and workers helped her install three rescue caches – something that could have possibly saved her late husband’s life. The organization provides, guidance, training and financial assistance to support mountain rescue on Aconcagua and in other commercial climbing areas.

“An hour after we installed them, we found out a woman had collapsed and this helped save her life,” she says. “I was in shock and so happy, but of course a part of me wished I could have saved Fede. Since then I’ve heard many similar stories of people surviving because of the caches.”

On what would have been the couple’s eighth wedding anniversary on Oct. 8, Amber says she has a new outlook on life.

“What are you going to do with what happens to you?” she asks herself. “Are you going to feel sorry for yourself and get angry or are you going to take a perspective that there has to be a way to move forward and grow?”

She chose the latter.

“I want to do a TED talk, get involved in suicide prevention and keep on climbing the mountain,” she says. “It’s been wonderful to see that the small things I do can help someone.”