A disabled New Zealand mountaineer criticized for failing to help a dying British climber on his way to the summit of Mount Everest said yesterday there was nothing he could have done to save the man.
Mark Inglis, who reportedly became the first double amputee to scale the world's highest mountain, was responding to criticism by Everest pioneer Sir Edmund Hillary, who condemned the climber for leaving the man to die.
British climber David Sharp, 34, of Guisborough, died in a snow cave 300m from the mountain's peak, apparently from oxygen deprivation suffered during his solo descent from the summit.
More than 40 climbers are thought to have seen Sharp as he lay dying, and almost all continued to the summit without offering assistance.
The circumstances of Sharp's death prompted stinging rebukes from Hillary, who said it was "horrifying" that climbers could leave a dying man. He said he would have abandoned his own pioneering climb in 1953 to save another life.
"It was wrong if there was a man suffering altitude problems and was huddled under a rock, just to lift your hat, say `good morning' and pass on by," he said. "Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain."
Responding to the criticism, Inglis said his party stopped and found Sharp close to death. A member of his party tried to give the man oxygen, and sent out a radio distress call before continuing to the summit.
Inglis said Sharp was in Everest's "death zone," more than 8,000m above sea level, and there was virtually no hope that he could be carried to safety from that altitude.
"I walked past David but only because there were far more experienced and effective people than myself to help him," he said. "It was a phenomenally extreme environment, it was an incredibly cold day. When we stood on the top at 7am it was minus 38oC."
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark also weighed into the debate yesterday.
"What Sir Ed has said is something many people relate to, but he's probably also reflecting the fact that ethics around mountaineering may well change over time," Clark said. "It's a complex tragedy with a lot of issues you have to weigh up when life is in the balance."