Man’s ‘impossible’ act stuns doctors

By | June 11, 2019

A Perth man who broke his neck during a freak accident in 2014 has defied his devastating prognosis and climbed seven of the world’s highest mountains, smashing the previous Guinness World Record.

Originally from Sydney, Steve Plain was a successful engineer living in Perth at the time of his accident.

The 37-year-old had been swimming on Cottesloe Beach on the morning of December 13, 2014, when he decided to body surf his way back to shore.

Recalling the incident, Mr Plain told he had been treading water when he saw a small set of waves coming towards him.

“I turned into the beach and that was the last thing I remember,” he said.

The wave swept him up, dunked him, and the pressure of the impact broke his neck.

When he came to, he was upside down in the water and unable to move his arms.

“I tried moving my hands to take a breath but they were completely paralysed. Another wave rolled me back over and I was able to take in some air,” he said.


Mr Plain was rescued by two off-duty surf life savers and raced to the Royal Perth Spinal Trauma Unit.

Doctors were astounded he had survived the impact, as he‘d suffered an injury so severe it’s referred to in the medical profession as a “hangman’s fracture”.

He came away with a contorted spinal cord, fractures in three vertebrae, ruptured discs, damaged arterial artery and extensive ligament damage.

“Doctors told me that 99 per cent of people with my type of injury would be bound to a wheelchair for life, if not worse,” he said.

“Those first few days were very tough, because no one knew what my prognosis would be. They thought it would be impossible for me to walk again.

“I lay on my back for five days, strapped to the bed, and waited for news.”

Rather than surgery, doctors place Mr Plain in a halo brace — a metal ring screwed into his skull to hold it in place and connected to a brace to completely immobilise him.

He said he was kept in that “hideous device” for four months while his neck injury healed.

It was during his time in hospital, while chatting to a mate, that he decided he wouldn’t let this injury define the rest of his life.

According to Mr Plain, the last thing his doctors told him was to “never do any contact sports or adventure sports again”.

But he didn’t let that stop him for a second.

“I made a commitment to myself that I was going to walk out of that hospital and climb the Seven Summits,” he said.


Mr Plain set his heights extremely high, pursuing his dream of climbing the highest mountains in each of the seven continents.

These include Mount Everest in Nepal, Aconcagua in Argentina, Denali in Alaska Mount Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Vinson in Antarctica, Mount Elbrus in Russia, Puncak Jaya (Carstensz) in Indonesia.

He wanted to beat the Guinness World Records title for the fastest time to climb the Seven Summits — this was 131 days.

“Climbing is something I have always loved and I was captivated by the mountains ever since I was 16 years old,” he said.


After 11 months of rehab and his first “practice run” — scaling New Zealand’s Mount Aspiring less than a year after his accident in November 2015 — Mr Plain figured: “If I could break my neck and survive, I may as well pursue some of my dreams now that I was well again.”

He flew to Sydney in January, 2018, and set off for his first summit climb.

The Guinness World Records team equipped him with a GPS tracker to monitor his progress and check off each summit he conquered.

With each mountain he summitted, Mr Plain was required to document with video, photographs and witness testimony to confirm he had in fact made it to the top.

“A lot of people think you get up there and celebrate but for me it was a reflective period,” he said.

“When I would reach the top I would often get overwhelmed with emotion and think about what a privilege it was to be able to do this, considering what the outcome could have been not long prior.”


Mr Plain said the hardest mountain to climb was Denali, in Alaska.

This is the highest mountain in North America and was the off season when he scaled it.

“A ski plane dropped us onto one of the glaciers and we were the only ones there in brutally tough conditions,” he said.

At one point, the group was caught in a vicious storm and were tent bound for three days, struggling through wind gusts of up to 100km/hr.

“We summitted that mountain at 10pm in -45 degree temperatures, it was a really difficult climb,” he said.

“But I kept thinking ‘nothing is holding me back anymore’.”

Mr Plain miraculously climbed his way into Guinness World Records history last year and will be announced as the “fastest climber of the Seven Summits” today, to mark the theme of this year’s Guinness World Records – ‘Spirit of Adventures’.

Steve smashed the previous record, scaling the mountains in just 117 days, 6 hours and 50 minutes.

The official Guinness World Records Day falls on November 14 this year.

He urged people not to put off their dreams because “you never know what tomorrow will bring”.

“I always had things I wanted to achieve, but I put them off for other commitments,” he said.

“Then one day, I woke up and found myself in hospital with a broken neck and realised what I wanted to do may not be possible.”

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