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History was made last month on Everest, but it did not involve climbers. For the first time in history, a helicopter landed on the summit of Mount Everest. It was done as a kind of publicity stunt by Europcopter, the maker of the helicopter, but it has huge implications for future ascents of the highest peak.
On May 14th, 2005 at 7:08 a.m. (Nepal 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 in the Kingdom of Nepal.
Heretofore, the summit of Everest was utterly out of reach for helicopters. In fact, just landing at base camp, 10,000 feet lower, was considered a life endangering feat. Several attempts resulted in crashes. KC Madan, a Nepalese military pilot , became a hero when he landed his machine at Camp II to rescue Beck Weathers and Makalu Gau after the 1996 tragedy. Now, pilot Didier Delsalle has landed on the summit, where he remained for two minutes.
The implications are potentially important to mountaineering on Everest. If a helicopter were able to land on the summit of Everest in 1996, for instance, one has to wonder, would climbers such as Rob Hall or Scott Fischer be alive today? Might this change the nature of Mount Everest's summit forever, bringing it down to the level of Mount Rainier, or even Denali, where a specially modified Lama helicopter routinely plucks endangered climbers from the upper reaches of the mountain?
Even if this daring piece of flying is not repeated soon, it seems inevitable that helicopter flights will be made to the summit of Everest again, eventually, and perhaps become routine. Will modern day climbers on Mount Everest some day expect rescue if they get into trouble?
The remarkable Eurocopter flight breaks the World Record for the highest altitude landing and take-off ever, for any flying machine on Earth, and sets an undeniable milestone in the history of aviation.
The unexpected event was heralded by climbers, stuck lower down on Everest for weeks by persistent high winds, as the "mystery chopper."
Eurocopter has made hay in the wake of the event. Fabrice Bregier, President and CEO of the Europcopter Group, a leading helicopter manufacturer, immediately congratulated the pilot and his team for this extraordinary feat.
According to Eurocopter, here's what happened: After taking off from its base camp Lukla on May 14th, 2005 at 2,866 meters (9,403ft) Didier Delsalle piloted his Ecureuil AS350B3 to the top of Mount Everest.
As required by the Federation Aeronautique 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.
Stepping out of his helicopter, 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.
Achieved with a production helicopter, this absolute World Record underlines the ability of the Ecureuil/AStar AS350 B3 as a multipurpose helicopter, which after this Eurocopter hopes may well emerge as the best performing helicopter in the world in the most extreme conditions.
To date, 3,670 Ecureuil/A-Star have been sold worldwide, and have logged 15 million flight hours. The aircraft is currently in operation worldwide, mainly used for missions requiring high performances, such as aerial work (cargo sling capacity: 1,400kg) in very high and hot conditions.
Europcopter said that it is thankful to the Nepalese government and all its departments for their help and friendly support throughout this mission.