We have covered hundreds of expeditions in 2005. It's difficult to choose the best, as they all contributed in their own way, sharing their story - their very soul in fact - with us and the world.
And yet, there are those who continue to linger in our minds long after their final debrief. We have chosen 8 expeditions who have contributed in an extraordinary way to the Spirit of Adventure in the year of 2005.
Today number 6: Didier Delsalle - Everest Mystery Chopper
The first Everest summiteer in 2005 was not a climber - but a brave helicopter pilot. His feat astonished most, annoyed some - and most importantly - proved the impossible wrong. The flight of the Mystery chopper was the biggest surprise of this Everest season, but the hover landing was only the beginning of the drama.
Jamie McGuinness of Project Himalaya started it all with a short message from Everest North side: "On 5 May from around 8:30 to 8:52 Nepali time a chopper tried twice to land on top of Everest (with a refuel in between?), possibly did land on top, but we couldn't see exactly from 7700m, the angle wasn't favorable. I repeat, we can't confirm if it did land or not, but it was close, very close!"
With earlier Helicopter world records, the Indian Air Force Everest Expedition were suspects, but expedition leader Wing Commander Amit Chowdhury denied any knowledge. So who could this be, we speculated, and dubbed the helicopter "Mystery Chopper".
We had witnessed enough high altitude helicopter rescues and chopper crashes in Everest BC to understand the challenge involved in what seemed to be going on. But what was going on, really?
May 12, Jamie came back with an update: At 7:25 - 7:27 am Nepali time we saw a helicopter again trying to land on the summit. From BC, quite a distance away, we didnt get a photo and were not able to see if it landed or not, although it was again close. It seemed to try to stay in Nepali airspace.
On Everests South Side, the Valencia team shot a video and we ran it on ExplorersWeb TVs May 11th newscast. That's when we received an image that blew us away - the copter sported a sticker banner on its front reading The Mystery Chopper!
They did it!
On May 24, the incredible press release arrived:
"On May 14th, 2005 at 7h08 (local time), a serial Ecureuil/AStar AS 350 B3 piloted by the EUROCOPTER X-test pilot Didier Delsalle, landed at 8,850 meters (29,035ft) on the top of the Mount Everest (Kingdom of Nepal)."
After taking off from its base camp Lukla on May 14th, 2005 at 2,866 meters (9,403ft) Didier Delsalle onboard his Ecureuil AS350B3 reached the top of Mount Everest. As required by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI - International Aeronautical Federation), the aircraft remained landed on ground more than 2 minutes on the top of the world before flying back to Lukla. This feat was renewed the day after.
Stepping out of his helicopter in Lukla, Didier Delsalle commented: « To reach this mythical summit definitively seemed to be a dream; despite the obvious difficulties of the target to be reached, the aircraft demonstrated its capability to cope with the situation (), sublimated by the magic of the place.
It's Everest alright!
Vive La France - and Salut to the Magic of Everest - we jubilated.
But the story was far from over. Now a debate erupted, hilarious at times: That's not Everest! That's not the summit! It's not a landing... Was it in fact a chopper at all?! Confused, we stared at the pictures and videos. Although the proof was right there - some people kept pronouncing the world flat.
Everest historian Jochen Hemmleb studied the images closely and set the facts straight: It was Everest, and it was the summit.
But was it a landing? A press release from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal arrived, and the guys were not happy:
"In a written statement submitted to the Committee, Capt. Desalle said, 'I have not landed at the peak of Mt. Everest. Rather, I only hovered twice over the peak, as it was impossible to land there due to the difficult terrain of the summit'." The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal in fact labeled the news issued by Eurocopter as "hypothetical, illusive and hence misleading."
Landing, not parking!
A Commercial Pilot in helicopters and airplanes, thought otherwise. Equally upset, he wrote to ExWeb, "That statement issued by the CAAN was widespread by the Indo-Asian News Service. Their reporting seems a little biased, nationalistic (jingoistic even), and defensive of the Indian Air Forces recent high altitude helicopter efforts."
The background - last year, the Indian Air Force had set a new world record by reaching 25,150 ft and in rescue missions on May 11, 12 and 13, an IAF Cheetah helicopter landed at 23,240 feet on the Kamet glacier in the Garhwal Himalayas to rescue three critically injured climbers, in severe turbulent conditions and in the face of jet speed winds.
The Mystery chopper had reached 29,000 ft - but how did it compare? Was it a landing? What about the statement to CAAN?
The Captain offered some hard facts:
Landing is not Parking the pilot explained, referring to the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI - International Aeronautical Federation) book of rules:
18.104.22.168 THE LANDING: The point and/or time at which any part of a rotorcraft or its crew
a) first touches the ground, or
b) comes to rest after landing.
5.2 ALTITUDE RECORDS
5.2.5 HIGHEST TAKE-OFF
22.214.171.124 The touch down/take-off must ensure that the rotorcraft maintains contact with the ground for at least two minutes.
Check and check for the Mystery chopper.
Eurocopter to CAAN - we landed alright!
But what about the statement issued to CAAN? Eurocopter responded to that allegation on June 7, 2005:
"...to the Civil Aviation Authorities of Nepal (CAAN)...Eurocopter does confirm that its serial Ecureuil AS 350B3 did achieve the World Record performance of high altitude landing and take-off on Mount Everest on May 14th and 15th 2005 as per FAI standards. Indeed the permission given by the CAAN to the Eurocopter team was very clear and did concern Everest High Altitude Heli Flight Test, including landings and take-offs.
Putting the magic back
Climbers have to defend their summits at times. Eurocopter's world record is still under validation but at ExplorersWeb - it's all about the Spirit of Adventure. Amidst all Everest statistics, expedition politics and weather debates - sometimes an expedition comes out of nowhere and puts all the magic back. The Everest mystery chopper did just that.
Didier Delsalle summarized the adventure:
'We have realized this project with a great respect for the Mountain, for the people who suffer incredibly and risk their life to climb there and for the Country which hosted us. Considering this record, I will be even happier if one day, with the benefits of these flights tests results; one of our helicopters can rescue someone in the 8000 meters region from a deep pulmonary or brain edema. This day, it will really be a great day and a great victory for me!'
Didier and his Mystery Chopper stay in our memory for pioneering, courage, ingenuity, and magic.
Note: Video Music is "Utopia" by Alanis Morissette
By their performance, the awarded expeditions have proved themselves outstanding in all or most of the following:
- Self reliance
- Respect towards competition
Previous in the countdown:
7. Broad Peak SW face - for pioneering, courage, self reliance and persistence.
8. Expedition Siberia - for heart and Shackleton Spirit.
An additional 4 expeditions have received a special mention award:
Marcin Miotk - for his self-sufficiency and courage to speak up.
Minoru Saito - for his humble life of great adventures.
Pavel Rezvoy - for his power of will and refusal to retire.
Fedor Konyukhov, the Renaissance explorer - for his pursuit of fairness.
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