HAI Convention News

Everest feat recognized–at last

 - September 28, 2006, 10:24 AM

At noon today at the Eurocopter booth (No. 1741), company test pilot Didier Desalle will finally be recognized for his landing on the summit of Mount Everest (29,035 feet, 8,850 meters) last May. Jacques Escaffe from the Federation Aeronautique International (FAI), the organization that regulates flying achievements, will present Desalle and Eurocopter CEO Fabrice Brégier with a certificate to mark the aviator’s ultimate high-altitude landing. Above the presentation ceremony the actual helicopter–a production AS 350B3 AStar–will be unveiled.

Desalle and his team were in Nepal to demonstrate the B3 model’s rescue capabilities to the Nepalese authorities. After landing on the summit on May 14, the AStar remained there for more than two minutes to satisfy FAI requirements, before flying back to its base at Lukla. There, he found out that the Nepalese government was casting doubt on his feat. It claimed that he did not have the relevant permission and had only made a precautionary landing on the South Col, some 3,000 feet below the summit, in deteriorating weather conditions.

However, Eurocopter pressed his case, the government relented and the FAI certificate is final confirmation that the record stands. In fact, Desalle landed twice on consecutive days–he wanted to make sure that the first one had not been a fluke.

Desalle has talked about some of the challenges he faced in setting the record. In an interview with Climbing magazine, he said that “the first flights were spent discovering the area, finding the best ways to approach the different summits. At those altitudes, you can find winds of up to 300 kilometers per hour [190 mph]. We first had to find out where the worst updrafts and the downdrafts were.

“I found one updraft so powerful that I could climb using hardly any power. On the other hand, I had to use full power to descend and was barely moving. I had to chart the areas to avoid and test the limitations by gradually climbing. We were pretty sure we could take off and land on the South Col but the summit we didn’t know. We weren’t hoping for much beyond the South Col, then little by little, I realized I would be able to land.”

When he finally made the landing, Desalle said he remembers thinking that “to reach this mythical summit was the realization of a dream. Despite the obvious difficulties of the target to be reached, the aircraft demonstrated its capability to cope with the situation. The experience was enhanced by the magic of the place.”

Alongside Desalle and Brégier for the noon presentation will be U.S. mountaineer and Dallas resident Dr. Seaborn Beck Weathers, the author of Into Thin Air, who in 1996 was famously rescued off the slopes of Everest by a Nepalese Army AS 350B2. Representatives of the Texas climbing community are expected to make a pilgrimage to Heli-Expo to meet Weathers and Desalle.