The Day Mallory Was Found
Below are excerpts from radio transmissions and video recorded on the day in
May 1999 when NOVA-sponsored climbers discovered the body of George Leigh
Mallory high on Mt. Everest. Mallory disappeared with his partner Andrew Irvine
in 1924, and the mystery of whether they might have reached the summit has
persisted ever since. For particulars on the various individuals involved in
these conversations, see Meet the Team, and to put the discovery in context,
see the Dispatches.
Go straight to the audible conversations via RealAudio.
In these early-morning radio communications, researcher Jochen Hemmleb, an
expert on the disappearance of Mallory and Irvine who remains at Base Camp,
talks to Dave Hahn, a member of the search party. The search group, which also
includes Conrad Anker, Jake Norton, Andy Politz, and Tap Richards, is climbing
from the expedition's Camp V at roughly 25,500 feet towards Camp VI. Here they
will begin their search for the 1975 Chinese Camp VI, near the spot where one
of the Chinese climbers reported seeing an "English dead." Expedition leader
Eric Simonson, meanwhile, is at Advance Base Camp.
HEMMLEB: Base camp, calling climbing team, do you copy?
Jochen Hemmleb at Base Camp guides the climbers toward the Search Area.
HAHN: Breaker, Breaker, this is Dave.
HEMMLEB: Reading you loud and clear Dave.
HAHN: Eric, I'm halfway through the ledge, Jake and Andy about 100 yards ahead,
Tap about 200 feet behind. Break. Conrad appears to be going to like the north
ridge direct or something, I don't know what the deal is. Sorry Eric. Would
like to have given you a more cohesive team together report. It's one of those
kind of solo days, wind is kicking us around a little bit. Over. Pretty awkward
up here with no snow on these ledges.
HEMMLEB: Are you in the sun yet?
HAHN: No, it's about 20 feet below our heels. Over.
HEMMLEB: Okay. Can you give me a bit of a clue where you are at the moment? Are
you in that gully leading up to the old Camp VI site?
HAHN: We're just getting into the gully, just getting near the gully. You
should be able to start seeing us soon. Over.
Now 45 minutes into their search, the five climbers have fanned out over the
mountainside looking for the body of Andrew Irvine. The team believes that if
they find Irvine, they might also find his Vest Pocket Kodak camera, whose
film, if salvagable, would presumably contain photos from the summit if Mallory
and/or Irvine had reached it.
ANKER: I'm down here at the edge of the cliff band. And there was another
climber that had fallen but he had a jumar so he wasn't what we were looking
for. But I'm going to go to the edge of the Great Couloir and then go up. And
I'm here in these, uh...where there are a lot of rocks where there might be
sort of an eddy, so to say, Over.
SIMONSON: Conrad, ABC here. We copy.
ANKER: I'm down the fall line. Do you guys see where I am? Look where I'm
HEMMLEB: It's very hard to see them.
ANKER: I'm going to go investigate this direct fall line. Over.
RICHARDS: Conrad and everyone, I'm at the fall line here as well. I've come
across two other people. Looks like they definitely have fallen. I don't know.
The fall line in relation to that ice axe is the key. Over.
HEMMLEB: I could suggest that what we are looking for is lower down, but as I
can't see you right now in the telescope, I'm not that sure, so keep on
RICHARDS: I think we need to just keep poking around. Over.
Conrad Anker recounts his discovery at Base Camp.
HEMMLEB: You're doing great.
ANKER: I'm down below the fall zone now, probably a good distance.
HEMMLEB: Conrad, could you tell me who is the one in the upper corner of the
snow now? Over.
ANKER: I think it's Andy and then Dave is lower and I'm the very lowest.
HEMMLEB: Thank you for that, Conrad.
ANKER: I'm at the edge of the cliff, so if subsequent avalanches moved the
person then they might be here. Over.
POLITZ: Base Camp, this is Andy.
HEMMLEB: Go ahead Andy.
POLITZ: There are a couple of ledges above me. I'm heading up towards them. Do
you think it's worth the effort? Over.
HEMMLEB: Andy, honestly, I think you are well above any suggested search site,
but if you think you will walk up in the fall line, you're pretty close so
POLITZ: I've been walking a comfortable angle from the Chinese Camp, and I'm
thinking maybe that's uh...I'm trying to get inside somebody's head here. Over.
I'll go up another 100 feet and then I'll sweep down. Over.
HEMMLEB: Okay. Let me suggest the following, Andy. When you've done your trip
up another 100 feet and decide to go down, facing downwards, keep a bit to the
left below the huge rock band, that's what I think is the farthest edge of the
search area. Over.
POLITZ: Roger. I have a good visual for every ledge below me, so I'll just go
slow and look hard. Over.
HEMMLEB: Great Andy. [Off radio:] That was promising. He says that although it
looks from here like a solid snow cover, it's fairly thin. That's Andy who is
moving up there.
The following radio transmissions chronicle the very moment climber Conrad
Anker comes upon what he thinks is Andrew Irvine's body. To prevent other
climbing expeditions then on Everest from hearing his news and communicating it
to the outside world, Anker tries his best to break the news to his search
companions, along with Simonson and Hemmleb, using code words such as
"Snickers" and "tea."
ANKER: I've got a thermos of Tang juice and some Snicker bars. Why don't you
guys come down and have a little picnic with me? Over.
HAHN: Conrad, is that you way at the bottom of the snow there?
ANKER: Roger. Roger.
HEMMLEB: Conrad, this is Jochen, do you read?
ANKER: Hi Jochen, I read you. Over.
HEMMLEB: I see you through the telescope and I just wonder—just above you
and to the west of you, there is this huge expanse of snow, whether any one of
you guys can walk up over there, unless Andy is doing it on the way down.
Hear radio transmission in RealAudio
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ANKER: Dave Hahn—got a copy?
Struggling to hear past the roaring wind, Jake Norton receives the call for a group meeting.
RICHARDS: This is Tap. Go ahead.
ANKER: Make sure Dave gets down here for tea and Snickers. Over.
RICHARDS: Yeah, Dave and I are right here together here. We're going to make
our way down that direction, I think. Over.
POLITZ: Okay, Tap, this is Andy, come in.
RICHARDS: Yeah Andy, Conrad is down pretty low, and we'd like to have Snickers
and tea down there. Over.
ANKER: Group meeting. Mandatory group meeting. Over.
RICHARDS: Mandatory group meeting, Andy. Over.
POLITZ: Roger. You been in the same location? Over.
RICHARDS: You can see Dave and I are real close together. Watch us and follow
us down. Over.
Eric Simonson monitors the team's progress from Advanced Base Camp, 21,300 feet.
POLITZ: Roger. I'm on my way.
SIMONSON: Conrad, ABC.
ANKER: Go ahead, Eric.
SIMONSON: I'm standing by here. Just a quickie. I want you guys to know that
there is at least one other expedition on our frequency right now.
HEMMLEB: ABC, this is Base Camp, do you read?
SIMONSON: Go ahead Base Camp.
HEMMLEB: Just a radio check. Over.
SIMONSON: Copy that, how is everything going at Base Camp?
HEMMLEB: Suspended silence down here.
SIMONSON: Copy that.
Using a hand-held digital video camera, Dave Hahn recorded the following
conversation between the search party members as they examined what they
initially think is Andrew Irvine's body. Then, to everyone's surprise, the team
discovers irrefutable evidence that the body belongs, in fact, to George
NORTON: We've got to flip him over to try to find that camera.
ANKER: I think we should bury him.
NORTON: Just a few rocks so he's not quite as obvious.
Hear radio transmission in RealAudio
HAHN: You can see his hands. You can see
his blonde hair. His body appears to be mummified. There's rope around his
waist, coming down his legs.
Jake Norton etches a memorial epitaph for the fallen climber, whom he believed to be Andrew Irvine.
ANKER: His right leg ... is the end of the tibia.
HAHN: Still some socks. You can see a boot. Second boot appears to be on his
foot. You can see the metal cops—bottom of his boot. That boot, that leg is
an angulated fracture, so first guess is that he took a fall. Again, you can
see rope around his body. Hands out to either side, almost in a self-arrest
position. And his blonde hair. There are the remains of clothing—from this
angle, we can't see yet whether it's button clothing or zipper clothing.
ANKER: Andy, do you recall what part of the body they wanted for the DNA
NORTON: Yeah, right here, you can see the fold in the skin from pressure by the
rope, and also a black and blue that is still in the skin. That kind of
indicates that he was either tied to something or someone when the pull came.
POLITZ: He probably had several wraps of rope around him, as a harness.
NORTON: Well, that's a good indication that he and Mallory might still have
been tied to each other.
The search team reflects on their discovery of George Mallory.
HAHN: Okay Andy, tell me what you're finding.
POLITZ: He's got a fine cotton layer. Might act as a shell. Hard to tell what
kind of a cuff it's got. No, it's double layer. It's got a liner that we can
see here. It's kind of a stripe pattern with a light pattern, and then a
thicker one. This would be the lining of the shell gear. And then he's got—I
tell you, I had a shirt like this—one of these old logger shirts. It's
cotton, but it would give you some insulation. It's probably a button wrist,
I'll bet, if it's anything like the one I had. So you've got a cut here. This
was here before he started. I see a full-on thumb—his thumb split just
exactly where mine is.
HAHN: Okay, so we've got some kind of cap? He's wearing some kind of cap. He's
got a snap.
NORTON: Look at this abrasion here, too. He fell on his shoulder blade at some
HAHN: Over on this side, you can see his layers, his wool sweater, long
POLITZ: Another layer of cotton.
NORTON: From Junior Stores. That's about all I can read.
HAHN: Okay, these are... the collar... and the—Here, move your mitt.
NORTON: Wait, this is George Mallory.
Andy Politz, Tap Richards, and Conrad Anker perform a Church of England committal service for George Mallory.
NORTON: This is George Mallory.
HAHN: Oh my God! Oh my God!
NORTON: See that? George Mallory.
HAHN: Oh my God! Okay, somebody tell me good and loud what we're looking at
NORTON: Right now we're going through the clothes on this body's back and we
see a tag here that says W. F. Payne, and below that is a name tag. If you
can't see it, it says G. Mallory. Now Mallory and Irvine were climbing
together, it could be either one of them, but at least it identifies that it's
one of the pair.
HAHN: What's up, Andy?
POLITZ: We expected that this is Andrew, fallen ten stories below the ice axe,
Andrew Irvine's ice axe. However, we just found a shirt with a George Mallory
tag on it. And I'll tell you, it blows you away. Now that doesn't mean this is
George. Maybe Andrew is borrowing one of his shirts. Still, it places it in the
right period, and it's the real thing here—blew me away.
HAHN: So, there's a button on his clothing. It was one of the things we were
told to look for to identify the type of clothing.
NORTON: You want to point that out?
NORTON: You can see there is a deformation here, indicating a huge fall and
that his rack...is everything on the line....
RICHARDS: After all, he has broken ribs or something.
ANKER: We're cutting his sleeves off and exposing his arms. We're not finding
any jewelry or wearing a wristwatch on either wrist. We're also finding
lacerations and something that looks like this other elbow really looks
deformed, again indicating a fall, trauma ... I can't emphasize enough that the
ribs here where it looks like the rope really took a hit on the ribs and this
whole torso area. I wonder if he was carrying a rucksack at the time, and what
happened to the rucksack.
Dave Hahn calls down from Camp V, 25,600 feet.
HAHN: Burying George Mallory. We didn't find the camera. We looked fairly hard.
POLITZ: We're not worthy for this. We do this out of respect for this man. The
Lord is full of compassion and mercy. Slow to anger and of great goodness. As a
father is tender towards his children, so is the Lord tender to those that
fear, for he knows of what we are made. He remembers that we are made of
barefoot dust. He flourishes like a flower of the field. When the wind goes
over it, it's gone.
Hours after the discovery, the exhausted search party returns to Camp V. Again,
in these radio conversations, no member of the expedition lets on as to exactly
what they've found. But it's clear that Simonson and Hemmleb, thousands of feet
below, understand clearly what Anker stumbled upon.
Hear radio transmission in RealAudio
ANKER: Roger, Roger. I think everyone is
pretty tired. This is our fourth day in a row, and today was a 12-hour day from
five to five. So it's a long day. Over.
SIMONSON: Yeah, I hear you on that for sure. And it's probably better rather
than pushing it and risking a misfortune. Then you better just hole up there
and sleep on the O's and come down tomorrow maybe.
ANKER: Yeah, come right down to ABC in the morning, that might be the option.
I'll tune up at 6 o'clock, and Dave will probably be on the radio then too, and
we'll know how far out he is. Over.
SIMONSON: Okay. Sounds great. We'll just keep standing by.
HAHN: Yeah, we got back to the ridge and the wind is blowing hard on the ridge
here. I know that's the right course for me and Andy, and most likely—those
other guys can pull off some miracle, but they'll probably be comfortable.
Conrad, you on?
NORTON: We're not moving an inch. Over.
SIMONSON: Way to go there Jake.
NORTON: Thanks Eric. It was Conrad with the big day, but we all had a good one
up there. Over.
SIMONSON: Hey, I'm really proud of you guys. Way to hang in there, and yeah,
treat yourself to a nice juicy flow tonight and feel good in the morning.
NORTON: Roger that.
HEMMLEB (off radio): That's it....yes, yes, yes!
HAHN: Right Eric. Nothing more from up here really.
SIMONSON: Okay, we'll let you guys go. Get something to drink and have a
pleasant night. Talk to you at seven in the morning. ABC standing by.
HEMMLEB: Camp Five. This is Jochen. You guys are splendid. Congratulations.
Have a good night. Have a safe way down tomorrow. That's all I have to say.
HAHN: Thanks Jochen. You're going to be a happy man. Talk to you in a couple of
Back to The Search
Photos (1) WGBH/NOVA; (2-9) ©BBC.
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