2005, 08:30 am: Statement made by Shane Edmonds, leader, 2005 SummitClimb
I awoke in
the 5300 metre Lhotse basecamp at 06:30 am to the roar of helicopter engines.
I rolled out of my sleeping bag and out of my tent and watched as a large
Russian helicopter landed on the helicopter pad about 150 metres away.
like to stress that this helicopter was not one of those little 2 seater
glass-bubble traffic helicopters you see buzzing over big-city motorways at
rush-hour, sending back live traffic reports for the
If you have
never seen one before, these Russian helicopters are big, freight hauling
cargo ships made for flying heavy loads at high altitude through high mountain
passes. Some of them can hold 22 passengers and luggage. They are about 15
metres long, by 8 metres tall from landing gear to the top of the rotor; and 6
metres wide. The paint job on this particular ship was blue and white. The
main body of the helicopter could probably hold about 40 people standing up
(it wouldn't be able to take off with this much weight though). The pilots'
cabin is pretty much all glass in the front, and it takes at least three
pilots to run this huge aircraft. There is an enormous engine on top of the
craft, which turns the giant top rotor which must be about 12 metres across,
and the tail rotor, which whirs along at such blinding speed that its
virtually invisible on the tail of the ship, about 7 metres behind the main
rotor. When the engine is going full blast, the thing sounds something like a
cross between a bulldozer and a LeMans racing car on a tight turn. On each
side of the helicopter, just above the landing wheels, is a 3 metre long
torpedo-shaped fuel tank which must be at least 700 millimeters in diameter.
The main body of these helicopters opens in two places. In the back of the
body, the doors split the tail open like the wings of a huge beetle. On the
front-left-side of the helicopter, there is a passenger door, with retractable
steps, so passengers can more easily scramble up the 1.5 metre climb into the
helicopter. So, all in all, this helicopter is a very huge contraption, and in
my opinion, has the massive and clumsy look of a strangly crafted piece of
crudely engineered metal that could not fly.
morning helicopter landed and was quickly loaded with some duffle bags, 7
people hurried up the steps on the side of the ship and then it took off. I
guess 7 people and their bags was all it could hold at the altitude of
basecamp, 5300 metres.
later another helicopter came in, and again it was quickly unloaded and
loaded, then took off again.
think much of these two helicopter flights in rapid succession, except that
these people were lucky to be leaving basecamp so quickly, and that in a few
hours they would be sitting in a comfortable Kathmandu cafe sipping fresh
squeezed orange juice and eating omlettes and toast.
again a helicopter appeared on the horizon, and I stood outside our dining
tent together with some of our basecamp staff and sherpas, watching as yet
another big Russian copter approached. As the helicopter was coming in fast
and low over basecamp, our staff members Jai Bahadur, Temba Sherpa, Dorje
Lama, Mingma Sherpa and Sapte Sherpa walked over to the helicopter pad to get
a closer look at this giant dragonfly-looking beast coming in for a landing.
helicopter began to reduce speed as it approached. It was now approximately 60
metres above basecamp, flying blimplike down to the far end of basecamp, then
back over basecamp, slowing down over the helicopter pad. The ship started to
hover, partially over the pad and about 2 metres above it.
The pad is
located 150 metres from our basecamp on a flat area on top of the very jumbled
rock-covered Khumbu Glacier and is surrounded by boulders, ice pinnacles, and
crevasses. The pad is made of boulders piled up about 3 metres high. It has a
flat top, with gravel scattered on the upper surface, to make it sort of
smooth. The pad itself is 9 metres by 15 metres. When a big Russian helicopter
lands on the center of the pad, quite a bit of the ship is hanging over the
sides of the pad, with only the landing wheels
the flat top of the pad.
as the helicopter prepared to land. The front of the ship was over the pad,
while the rear landing gear was off the pad. I saw right away that the ship
was not in a good position to land, but I assumed that the pilots would lift
the ship up and recenter it on the landing pad. However, the ship kept going
down. As the helicopter slowly sank down onto the pad, only the front of the
ship was on the pad, so, as the helicopter was setting down, the rear main
body of the helicopter actually touched onto the helicopter pad, because the
rear wheel was hanging into thin air. I watched, horrified, as the fuel tanks
hit the landing pad. Before my disbelieving eyes, a hole the size of a
climber's helmet ripped into the tank on my side of the ship and fuel gushed
out the bottom of the tank in a green tinted waterfall.
point I felt shocked and couldn't believe I was seeing this happen, and I
thought to myself: "Oh Shit, they better land that machine before all the fuel
spills out and the engine dies and it really crashes hard."
second after I saw the fuel tanks rip open, I heard the motor hesitate and
stall and the helicopter lurched backward onto the tail section which was
hanging off of the pad. As the helicopter went over backwards, the tail rotor
suddenly smashed into the boulders at the base of the helicopter pad.
that this was now an official helicopter crash. Suddenly debris from the
shredding tail propeller flew everywhere into the air, and I saw pieces of
shrapnel hurtling into our camp. When I saw the flying debris I took cover
behind some large boulders, and I looked around for our staff, and abruptly
realized that they had been standing near the helicopter pad, watching the
landing. I feared for their safety.
the boulders, I was startled to see Jai Bahadur, one of our cooks, sprinting
past me with his mouth wide open and deep fear across his face. As he passed
me I thought to myself: "Oh my God, the helicopter is going to explode." A
burst of adrenaline took hold of me and I instinctively fell in behind him and
together we sprinted out of camp together, away from the helicopter. After
running blindly over boulders and crevasses for a few minutes, we stopped and
breathlessly looked behind us.
noise had stopped, the terrifying rotors had stilled, and I saw a group of
about 30 people scattered around the helicopter, hiding behind boulders, ice
pinnacles, and in crevasses. Somehow; I guess while I was hunched behind the
boulders, the helicopter had spun around 180 degrees and the nose was now
exactly where the tail had been a few seconds before. I guess Jai Bahadur had
witnessed this frightening 180 degree turn and this was what had made him run
so hard towards me, away from the crashing copter.
and I started walking back toward the helicopter. It seemed safe now that the
engines had stopped. We wanted to see if our friends who had been standing
around the pad were ok, and to see if there was anything we could do to help.
group of people were now standing in front of the helicopter, and above it on
top of the pad. A group of passengers who had escaped from the helicopter were
holding large television cameras and sound equipment, and were filming the
crash scene. I later found out that this flight had been organised by a
television news program to film some famous Everest climbers who had just
returned to basecamp. While the passengers were filming, expedition leaders
from other teams were telling them, in no uncertain terms, that they should
grab oxygen masks and run down to the nearest village and call for another
helicopter before they died here on the helicopter pad of altitude sickness.
immediate evacuation was a matter of great urgency because only a few minutes
before the crash, they had been in the low elevations of 1200 metre Kathmandu,
and up here at 5300 metres, someone who is unacclimatised can die very quickly
of pulmonary or cerebral oedema. Fortunately, they heeded this message,
because in a few minutes they were starting to run down to Gorak Shep, the
nearest village, escourted by some very kind and caring climbers,
it would have been better if another helicopter was summoned to come and pick
them up directly from our basecamp heli-pad, but, this was definitely out of
the question because the tail of the helicopter was jutting up into mid-air
right above the helicopter pad, preventing another ship from landing, and this
is the only helicopter landing place for many kilometres, the nearest one
being 7 kilometres away in Gorak Shep.
As I walked
around the crash site, I saw the basecamp hospital doctor and I asked him if
everybody was ok. He said he thought they were. We discussed the possibility
of the helicopter exploding, but he said the pilot had assured him that it
could not explode. I was still concerned however, so I organized all of the
people I saw in the crash vicinity and brought them back to the shelter of our
walked the 150 metres back to our camp I saw pieces of helicopter debris
strewn around our camp. Some were the size of potato chips, and one was two
metres long and weighed 17 kilos.
careful check of all of the people who were inside and outside the helicopter,
we have determined that apparently no one was seriously injured, and it seems
an amazing miracle. This could have been a much worse accident. For example,
if the helicopter had been a few metres closer to our tents, our team could
have been seriously injured by flying debris, or if the helicopter had
exploded, some of us would have been seriously burned by the exploding
aviation fuel tanks.
sad to see the helicopter sitting there, and its certainly worrisome to think
that Everest basecamp has no helicopter service, and that if a climber is
injured and needs emergency evacuation, they will have to be carried the 2-6
hours down the rough trail to Gorak Shep. Also, the crash of this million
dollar helicopter is a very tragic loss for all of Nepal, a country that
certainly does not need this kind of negativity right now.
listening to my story. Yours Sincerely, Shane Edmonds, Leader, SummitClimb.com
The Team Update:
The SummitClimb Everest climbers are headed for the summit right now!!!
The live dispatch is here.
Dan's North side team is one of the few to
summit Everest this year. His north side team is leaving the mountain after
summiting 8. Joao Garcia, ran up Lhotse for the only known summit of Lhotse
It was Joao Garcia's sixth 8000
meter peak, after Cho Oyu in 1993, Dhaulagiri in 1994, Everest in 1999,
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