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Sir Edmund Hillary, First to Scale Everest, Dies

Sir Edmund Hillary, the famed climber and adventurer who became one of the first climbers to scale the peak of Mt. Everest, died Thursday at age 88. The NewsHour speaks to David Breashears, a fellow climber and friend of Hillary's about his life as an adventurer and humanitarian.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    And finally tonight, the man who first conquered Everest, Sir Edmund Hillary. We begin with this report by James Mates of Independent Television News. His story opens with music and footage from a 1953 documentary.

  • FILM NARRATOR:

    … the top of the world has been reached.

  • JAMES MATES, ITV News Correspondent:

    Half a century ago, it was the ultimate challenge, to go higher than any man before, to climb Everest, where seven previous expeditions had failed.

    Sir Edmund Hillary and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay were the Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin of their day, men who had dared to take on and then to conquer Earth's final frontier.

    A modest, quietly spoken New Zealander, Hillary's fitness and ability had made him the choice of the British-led expedition to make the final ascent with Tenzing.

    They wouldn't talk about who first stepped on the summit. The historic photo is of Tenzing by Hillary. Many years later, though, Tenzing did reveal it had been Hillary just a few paces ahead.

    SIR EDMUND HILLARY, First Man to Reach Summit of Mount Everest: Tenzing and I always agreed we had done it once, we had done it first. And we had proved that it was possible to do it, because all the physiologists had warned us that it might not be possible, that we might reach the summit, even with oxygen, and collapse and die.

  • JAMES MATES:

    With radios out of action, the expedition leader, John Hunt, only found out when the two men returned to camp.

    GEORGE BAND, Member of Everest Expedition: Of course, we classic Brits would want to shake hands and pat each other on the back, but that wasn't enough for John Hunt and for Ed.

    John Hunt, who had borne the brunt of the leadership of this whole thing, they just found themselves in each other's arms. Hunt said it was like being hugged by a great bear.

  • JAMES MATES:

    Sir Edmund used his global celebrity for the people of Nepal, building clinics and no fewer than 17 schools. It was there that he was visited by tragedy, losing his wife and daughter in a plane crash.

    And Everest was not the end of his adventuring. He was to lead expeditions to the Antarctic and the Yangtze River. But from that day in 1953, his name would be synonymous with one thing only.