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Glory in the sun 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.

Jochen on Radio Jochen Hemmleb at Base Camp guides the climbers toward the Search Area.

HEMMLEB: Base camp, calling climbing team, do you copy?

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 pointing.

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 searching. Over.

Anker Conrad Anker recounts his discovery at Base Camp.
RICHARDS: I think we need to just keep poking around. Over.

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. Over.

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 continue. Over.

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. Over.

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Listening to radio Struggling to hear past the roaring wind, Jake Norton receives the call for a group meeting.

ANKER: Dave Hahn—got a copy?

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.

Simonson Eric Simonson monitors the team's progress from Advanced Base Camp, 21,300 feet.
RICHARDS: You can see Dave and I are real close together. Watch us and follow us down. Over.

POLITZ: Roger. I'm on my way.


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 Mallory.

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

Scratching a tombstone Jake Norton etches a memorial epitaph for the fallen climber, whom he believed to be Andrew Irvine.

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.

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 sample?

POLITZ: Femur.

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.

Group around Mallory The search team reflects on their discovery of George Mallory.
NORTON: Well, that's a good indication that he and Mallory might still have been tied to each other.

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 point.

HAHN: Over on this side, you can see his layers, his wool sweater, long underwear, cotton.

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.

Reading Psalm Andy Politz, Tap Richards, and Conrad Anker perform a Church of England committal service for George Mallory.

NORTON: Wait, this is George Mallory.

HAHN: Really?

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 here.

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?

HAHN: Yeah.

NORTON: You can see there is a deformation here, indicating a huge fall and that his everything on the line....

RICHARDS: After all, he has broken ribs or something.

Dave Hahn Dave Hahn calls down from Camp V, 25,600 feet.
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.

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.

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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. Over.

HAHN: Thanks Jochen. You're going to be a happy man. Talk to you in a couple of days.

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Photos (1) WGBH/NOVA; (2-9) ©BBC.

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