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 American passes away on Everest: Mark Merwin's statement of his review of the accident site


The flat boot track, and the "snail trail" (left) where Mike fell.

 

Dear EverestNews.com, Assistant Lhotse Team Leader Mark Merwin's statement of his review of the accident site: Statement dated 3 May, 2005, 1700 hrs.

 

Lhotse and Everest are climbed via the same route below camp 4, so the Lhotse and Everest expedition members often climb together lower on the mountain, and share basecamp, plus camps 1, 2 , and 3.

 

I left Base Camp and arrived at the scene of the accident around 6:30pm. By this time Mike had already died, and the rescuers were packing up gear and preparing to return to Base Camp for the night. Before sunset I took the opportunity to look over the scene of the accident with some of the team remaining. We hiked a short distance up the boot pack past the scene of the accident.  We turned around and walked towards the scene of the accident making observations about the scene.  As I walked along the fixed lines on top of the serac I observed the terrain was relatively flat and the walking easy because a very well developed boot pack had formed over the past several weeks.  However, despite the apparently easy walking I observed that there was a great deal of exposure to both the left and the right of the trail. It is definitely a place that a person would want to clip into the fixed line with their safety.  However, I believe that it is a place that many climbers do not clip the fixed line because the walking is very easy. Additionally, the rope is rather tight in that section and it is a hassle for a tall guy to bend over and clip the rope. Mike was about 2 meters tall and weighed about 120 kilos. Personally, there are often sections of fixed

line that I do not clip into because the terrain appears easy and safe, and it is quicker to just go onto the next anchor. I believe Mike was not clipped to the fixed line with his safety when he fell. If he had clipped the rope I think the rope would have arrested his fall, or we would have seen a broken rope at the scene of the accident. We did not find the rope broken. Nor was his safety line nor carabiner damaged in any way, as if it might have broken in a fall. Approximately 9 meters from the small 50 degree snow slope which proceeds the last vertical ladder Mike descended, I observed a set of prayer flags anchored in the snow. Approximately one to one half a meter before the prayer flag anchor I observed a slide path on the right side of the boot pack. The slide path was about two meters wide and led me to believe that Mike slid on his side, suggesting a forward fall.

 

I think it is possible that he simply tripped and fell while unclipped to the rope. The hot weather that day caused my crampons to ball-up several times with snow while I was descending. I believe it is possible Mike's crampons balled-up and caused him to loose his footing. The slide path was perhaps 5 meters long. It ended at the edge of the serac.  From the edge of the serac it appeared to me to be another 5 to 7 meters to the bottom of the crevasse where Mike passed away. I think the accident could have happened to any climber on the mountain that day, except for the most paranoid and overly cautious climber. Mike was a strong and great climber, and was not doing anything different from the majority of other climbers. I think he just stumbled a little, and it's terribly unfortunate that it cost him his life. It's so unfortunate that it happened to such a great guy. I'm truly sorry for his family's loss.

Dispatches

 

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