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Crashed helicopter lying on its side Helicopter Crashes at Everest Base Camp
May 21, 1997
By Liesl Clark

The sound, for those of us not watching, was distinct. First there was the ba- ba- ba- ba- ba- ba- ba from the rotor of a helicopter flying over our heads approaching the heli pad at Base Camp, a not uncommon scene. And then the silence was deafening: two and a half seconds of total silence, then a crash. I know the sound all too well as I've been in a helicopter when it had an engine flame out...

"I just lost complete control," said a shaken Colonel Madan K.C., the pilot of the B-2 Squirrel A-Star Ecuriel helicopter that crashed and then flipped on its side some 250 feet from the helicopter pad. Within seconds, all at Base Camp were running toward the helicopter to help rescue survivors. Colonel Madan, the heroic pilot who rescued Beck Weathers and Makalu Gau last year on Everest, in one of the world's highest helicopter rescues, was able to climb out of the helicopter safely with his co-pilot, the only other person on board. The B-2 is a helicopter that is specially modified for performance at high altitude.

Dr. Donner administered to them, and David Breashears was able to speak with Colonel Madan by radio while climbing up from Camp II to Camp III. David and Colonel Madan have a close friendship, after their combined efforts in the helicopter rescue of last year, and the many hours of Himalayan helicopter aerials they've filmed together this year for the NOVA documentary. "Colonel, we're all glad to hear you're okay," said David. The colonel was put on oxygen as soon as he was able to sit down. (He spent several minutes wandering around the downed helicopter and its parts-sprayed environs looking for where the tail hit.)

"We put them on oxygen because they came from Kathmandu valley, which is 4,000 feet above sea level," explains Howard Donner. "The quick ascension from that altitude to 17,600 feet at Base Camp requires that the pilot fly on oxygen at these altitudes. If we didn't put him on oxygen they would've probably developed Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), manifested in headache, dizziness, malaise, and lack of appetite. So we put them on a low flow oxygen just to prevent the onset of AMS, and luckily the weather was good enough to bring in a second B-2 to get them out of here." After contact was made with Kathmandu by the Italian expedition, which called in for a helicopter to rescue the two pilots, the colonel and his co-pilot joined us in our dining tent to wait for the arrival of the helicopter. Calls were made to Kathmandu by satellite phone to family and colleagues, to reassure them that all was well. It took three helicopter landings and takeoffs to evacuate the colonel, his co-pilot, and an injured French climber whom Colonel Madan had flown in to evacuate in the first place. The Colonel insisted on being the last one out, even though he could have rapidly deteriorated at this altitude.

Meanwhile, the latest news from up on the mountain is that at 2:00 pm today two Sherpas, three Icelandics, one British, and one Nepalese stood on top of Everest. Six were members of John Tinker's expedition and one was a climber from the all-Nepalese expedition. The climbers broke trail through the breakable crust and then spent two hours at the south summit waiting for oxygen that was coming up slowly behind them. "We've got a plume and a half up there," said David Breashears, looking up from Camp III and commenting on the weather coming off the summit pyramid. Nonetheless, the weather was manageable enough for the seven climbers to reach the summit and head back down. As of this writing, none of the climbers have returned to the South Col. We also have reports that a different group of seven climbers (six Kazakhs and one Bulgarian) who reached the summit from the north side have all returned safely to Base Camp there.

Meanwhile, David Breashears, Ed Viesturs, Dave Carter, Guy Cotter, Veikka Gustafsson, and Tashi Tenzing are now at Camp III after having a good day of climbing and filming on their way up. Dave Carter, Tashi Tenzing, and Guy Cotter will all start breathing supplemental oxygen tonight at Camp III. The others, excluding Veikka, will begin breathing bottled oxygen at Camp IV. This commits all to a summit attempt, as the oxygen supply is limited. They'll have three bottles each to get them up and out of the South Col and then each has three bottles to get them to the summit and back down to Camp IV. Veikka is attempting to reach the summit without the use of supplemental oxygen.

Weather reports show an estimated 38-43 knot winds on the 23rd, which will be their summit day. "It's going to be D-Day on Everest," comments David Breashears on the numbers of climbers heading for the summit on the same day. "We have members of John Tinker's expedition, Canadians, Guy Cotter's team, NOVA, and the Malaysians all going up on the same day. But we're strong and we'll be ahead of everyone breaking trail."

As the B-2 lies slumped like a beached whale on the rock and ice of the Khumbu Glacier, just a few hundred yards from our camp, we marvel at how the thin air up here takes its toll on machines as much as it does on our bodies. And at 23,500 feet, 6,000 feet above us, our team members slumber inside their sleeping bags, awaiting what will be the beginning of a sequence of arduous events leading up to the summit of Everest.

June 10, 1997: Back Home (27)
May 25, 1997: Climbers Return to Base Camp (26)
May 24, 1997: Descending Toward Base Camp (25)
May 23 PM, 1997: NOVA Climbers Safely Off the Summit (24)
May 23 AM, 1997: NOVA Climbers Reach the Summit! (23)
    Hear the archived live audio broadcast from the summit
    Read the transcript of the broadcast from the summit
May 22, 1997: Bid for the Summit (22)
May 21, 1997: Helicopter Crashes at Everest Base Camp (21)
May 20, 1997: Moving On Up (20)
May 19, 1997: Poised at Camp II (19)
May 18, 1997: Departing for Camp II (18)
May 17, 1997: Dead Sherpa Found on Khumbu Glacier (17)
May 16, 1997: Jet Stream Winds Blast Camp II (16)
May 13, 1997: Receiving News from the North Side (15)
    May 13, 1997: RealAudio Interview with David Breashears
May 11, 1997: Five Climbers Presumed Dead on the North Side (14)
May 10, 1997: The Waiting Game (13)
May 9, 1997: Pulmonary Edema Evacuation from Base Camp (12)
May 8, 1997: A Hasty Retreat to Base Camp (11)
May 7, 1997: Sherpa Falls To His Death On The Lhotse Face (10)
May 6, 1997: Spin: A Passenger to the Summit (9)
May 5, 1997: Delayed at Advance Base Camp (8)
May 4, 1997: NOVA Climbers Leave Base Camp for Their Summit Attempt (7)
May 1, 1997: NOVA Team Prepares for Summit Attempt (6)
April 26, 1997: Indonesian Expedition First to Summit in 1997 (5)
April 23, 1997: Expedition Leader Dies at Everest Base Camp (4)
April 22, 1997: Japanese Expedition Pulls Out (3)
April 16, 1997: Traffic Reports on Everest (2)
April 14, 1997: Rescue Season Begins (1)

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