Two Area Climbers Killed On Everest -- Six Others Also Die In Unexpected Storm
Seattle Times Staff Reporter
The Americans, the New Zealanders, the Taiwanese and the Dutch had come to Mount Everest, the world's highest mountain, because this is usually the ideal time of year to climb it.
For a few days, the winds calm down and it's safer to attempt an ascent.
But this time, an unexpected storm blew in.
Over the weekend, 30 climbers from several expeditions were stranded on the mountain. By the time the storm cleared and rescue efforts resumed, eight climbers, including two men from the Seattle area, were reported dead.
Scott Fischer, 40, of Seattle and Douglas Hansen, 46, of Renton were among those who died, according to family members who said they were notified yesterday by the U.S. Embassy in Nepal.
Other victims included Rob Hall of New Zealand, who along with Fischer was one of the world's most successful Himalayan climbers; Yasuko Namba, 47, of Japan, the oldest woman to have reached the top of the mountain; Andrew Harris, 31, of New Zealand; and three Indian climbers who were the first from that country to scale the mountain and whose names were not reported.
One other American, Seaborne B. Weathers of Dallas, struggled down to about 20,000 feet and was plucked off the mountain today in the world's highest helicopter rescue mission.
Fischer and Hansen had climbed Everest before.
Fischer, a world-respected professional climber, reached the summit two years ago without supplemental oxygen and helped collect 2 1/2 tons of garbage along the way. He was here earning a living, leading a mountaineering expedition organized by the West Seattle company he co-founded, Mountain Madness.
Hansen, a clerk for the U.S. Postal Service in Kent, had come because he didn't make it to the top last year, when he was within 300 feet of the summit before a storm hit and forced him back down, said his father, Fabian Hansen, of Kent.
So when he got a call from a New Zealand climber that another expedition was planned for this year, Hansen decided to join. He was part of an expedition led by Hall.
Fischer was leading 10 climbers as part of his Sagarmatha Environmental Expedition.
On Friday, both men reached the 29,028-foot-high summit, pushing through extremely deep snow that had turned back others, according to Outside Online, an electronic publication that was chronicling the climb on the World Wide Web.
One person had already died trying to make the attempt. Chen Yu-Nan, a 36-year-old from Taipei who was on a Taiwanese team, lost his footing and fell 80 feet the day before.
The blizzard hit as the two teams descended to a camp at 26,000 feet. Everybody on Fischer's team made it to the camp. Hall's team was stranded, as were other teams.
Fischer either ran into trouble himself or, friends said, was likely trying to help others get down when night fell. Fischer had led others to safety before with such frequency that colleagues referred to him as "Mr. Rescue."
"Anytime something went wrong, he was the first to volunteer his services to help other people out," said Brent Bishop, who climbed Everest with Fischer in 1994.
"Whether it was his own team or somebody else, he'd always make sure they were safe," said Tom Nickels, a manager at Mountain Madness.
Fischer grew up in New Jersey. He learned how to climb in Wyoming, through the National Outdoor Leadership School. In 1984, he opened Mountain Madness, an outdoor adventure company that specialized in mountaineering.
In 1989, he became the first American to climb Lhotse, the world's fourth-highest peak, southeast of Everest. In 1992, he climbed K-2, the world's second-highest peak. Last January, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro as part of an eight-member Seattle-climbing team that raised $1 million for CARE.
He was well-known and respected within the climbing community, a gregarious person who "was always interested in everybody having a good time. He wasn't selfish with his energy or his enjoyment of life," Bishop said.
Fischer said in a recent interview with Outside Online that he climbed "for the adventure, the travel. I've been all over the world, seen some pretty amazing places. I used to climb to get scared. Now I climb not to get scared, to stay in control."
Historically, this is the time of year climbers attempt to scale Everest, according to Jeff Herr, managing editor of Outside Online. There were approximately seven other teams on the mountain when the storm hit.
The online magazine was chronicling the climb in almost real-time on the Internet, with photographs and recordings by Fischer.
Fischer planned to make the final ascent around midnight. "The reason that we want to leave so early is we want to be able to get back down while it's still light. . . . Up and down, it's probably going to take about 12 hours," he said on the Web site.
"Somewhere in this 12-hour window, let's say something went wrong and it's 16 hours. Well, a 16-hour climbing day, there's going to be some darkness.
"If you can't find your camp on your way down at night, you're setting yourself up for disaster."
Fischer was found Friday, clipped to a Japanese climber. He was barely alive, and rescuers concluded he had little chance of surviving. They left him with a bottle of oxygen and concentrated on assisting others.
He was about two hours, or 1,000 feet, from the camp, Herr said.
Hall and Hansen were trapped on the mountain without oxygen, fluids, a tent or sleeping bag. Hansen died Friday night, but Hall was able to make a last call Saturday to his pregnant wife at their home in Christchurch, New Zealand.
More than 600 climbers have scaled Mount Everest. Nearly 100 have died making the attempt.
Hansen grew up in Aberdeen, S.D., and moved to Renton as a teenager with his family. He learned to climb by climbing Mount Rainier, which he started doing about 15 years ago. Then he decided to travel the world for his adventures, his father said.
He graduated from Renton High School in 1967 and had worked for the post office since then. He loved spending time outdoors, river rafting and scuba diving.
"He was somebody that made friends with everybody. He was an outgoing person, and everybody liked him," said his father.
His relatives include daughter Angie Hansen, 19, of Renton; son Jaime Hansen, 23, of Renton; sister Diane Hansen of Wenatchee, and brothers Thomas Hansen of Wilsonville, Ore., and Stephen Hansen of Wenatchee.
Fischer's relatives include his wife Jean Price; his son Andy, 9, and daughter Katie Rose, 5. Mountain Madness has set up a fund for Fischer's children. Donations can be made to the "Fischer-Price Children's Fund" at any Seafirst Bank.
Seattle Times staff reporter Jennifer Bjorhus, the Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this story.
Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.