The two skiers encountered a 50 ft rock section at about 8500 meters and began rappelling down. Suddenly the anchor broke and Tomas fell, continuing to slide down the wall. Tormod proceeded to ski down Norton alone, and then traversed to the North Col. A helicopter has been dispatched to search the face. Image ExplorersWeb (click to enlarge).
"I think that Tomas felt a little hurried: We still had 2500 meters (8000 ft) to go down, and he was on broken skis." Image of Tomas courtesy of his website.
After the accident, Tomas best friend Tormod Granheim (in image) went to sea. He had to abandon Abora III only a few months back when the prehistoric-style boat made of reeds sank.
Everest skiing accident update: Interview with Tormod Granheim

Posted: May 19, 2006 09:22 am EDT
A helicopter has been dispatched to search for missing Everest skier Tomas Olsson. Meanwhile last night, Tormod called his friend Jon Hagebø, a journalist at Norwegian TV2 Nettavisen who had followed the climbers through the entire expedition. "He told me what happened when Tomas fell," Jon tells ExWeb. "He was very sad, and emotional."

Tomas skis cracked

Tormod recalls:

"After descending from the summit, we managed to find a way through the balcony system right under the summit. We entered a small couloir about 15 ft wide. It's very difficult to see the couloir from below 8000 meters."

"There was not much snow, and Tomas skis cracked just behind the bindings. We entered a large snow field and tried to fix the skis there. We used some gear to stabilize them."

"I think that Tomas felt a little hurried: We still had 2500 meters (8000 ft) to go down, and he was on broken skis. Below the snow field, we came on a cliff, about 150 ft high. It was impossible to ski so we decided to rappel."

Tomas went down the rope first, still wearing skis on his feet

"I had been leading from the summit, but now Tomas went down the rope first, still wearing skis on his feet. There was no rock to put bolts into, so we had to use snow anchors. The snow wasn't too hard."

"It was foggy at the time, so I didn't see when he fell. But it happened about 30-60 ft from the bottom of the rappel. I didn't take any chances with my rope, instead I free climbed down the cliff."

"When I came down, I couldn't see any trace of Tomas trying to self arrest. That could mean that he was hit unconscious by the fall. I found his gear scattered everywhere, all the way down to 600 meters from the cliff."

TV2 Nettavisen writes that Tormod felt it would be pointless to ski down the whole mountain, so he skied down the Norton couloir and then traversed back to the North Col from there - with his skis on all the way. "I'm a skier - not a climber," Tormod said.

(Interview and translation courtesy of TV2Nettavisen).

The accident took place about two hours after the climbers summited the mountain on May 16: In a call from the top, they had reported a very hard climb up in a 14 hour push through a snow storm. "I hope we will be strong enough to ski down the north face," Tomas said.

The Norwegian news source was among the last to talk to the climbers, a few hours after their summit: Tomas and Tormod had by then entered the Great Couloir, and reported that they felt incredibly tired, negotiating the hardest skiing conditions they had ever faced.

In terms of difficulty, Everest north face is very different from the north ridge where the normal climbing route goes. The Great (Norton) Couloir has only been summited once; climbers who have been in the area say that the section is so steep that a fall not arrested by a rock is likely to end at the foot of the mountain, in deep soft snow.

Olsson and Granheim had been training hard all winter in the French Alps for the Everest challenge. They both lived in Chamonix, where they skied many of the classic lines. They skied down Cho Oyu in 2004 and rehearsed for the project in fall 2003 by skiing from the summit of two 7000+ mountains, Muztagh Ata (7546m) & Kuksay Peak (7186m) in China.