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Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 11:46 GMT
Everest hero Edmund Hillary dies
Sir Edmund Hillary in the Antarctic in January 2007
Sir Edmund Hillary was made an honorary Nepalese citizen

Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to scale the world's highest peak, Mount Everest, has died aged 88.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark described the explorer as a heroic figure and said all New Zealanders would deeply mourn his passing.

Sir Edmund's health had reportedly been in decline since April, when he suffered a fall while visiting Nepal.

He was the first man to climb the 8,850m (29,035ft) peak, with Tenzing Norgay, on 29 May 1953.

Returning to Everest's South Col camp, he famously greeted another member of the British expedition group with the words: "Well, George, we've knocked the bastard off."

He was an heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility and generosity
New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark

After the ascent, Sir Edmund led a number of expeditions to the South Pole and devoted his life to helping the ethnic Sherpas of Nepal's Khumbu region.

His Himalayan Trust has helped build hospitals, clinics, bridges, airstrips and nearly 30 schools. He was made an honorary Nepalese citizen in 2003.

Prayer ceremonies are being held in Nepal to pay tribute to Sir Edmund, the charity says.

'Quintessential Kiwi'

Announcing Sir Edmund's death in Auckland after a brief illness, New Zealand's prime minister described him as a "heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest but lived a life of determination, humility and generosity".

Map showing location of Everest in Nepal, plus annotated image of mountain showing 1953 ascent route
Before reaching base camp, ascent team walked 175 miles (282km) from Kathmandu and spent three weeks acclimatising
On May 26 initial attempt came within 300ft (91m) of summit, with final bid two days later
Five man team helped Hillary and Norgay to precarious point high up mountain where pair spent night in tent
Next morning they set out at 0630, reaching summit 1130
Source: Royal Geographical Society

"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived," Ms Clark said in a statement.

"But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi."

"He was ours - from his craggy appearance to laconic style to his directness and honesty. All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing."

Ms Clark said Sir Edmund's exploits would "continue to inspire new generations of New Zealanders, as they have for more than half a century already".

The BBC's Greg Ward in Auckland says Sir Edmund was arguably the most respected man in New Zealand.

His death has prompted an immediate outpouring of sympathy, with messages of condolences flooding in from around the globe, our correspondent says.

Tenzing Norgay's son called the death a great loss for humanity.

Race to the summit

The British adventurer and environmentalist, Pen Hadow, said Sir Edmund's death "closes one of the great chapters of planetary exploration".

"He was physically and metaphorically at the pinnacle of high adventure," the Dartmoor-based Arctic and Antarctic explorer told the Press Association.

Born in Auckland 19 July 1919, Sir Edmund began climbing mountains in his native country as a teenager and soon earned renown as an ice climber.

Edmund Hillary (L) and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay (R)
To my great delight I realised we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us
Sir Edmund Hillary

By the time he attempted his ascent of Everest in 1953 as part of an expedition led by the British climber, Sir John Hunt, seven previous expeditions to the top of the mountain had failed.

After a gruelling climb up the southern face, battling the effects of high altitude and bad weather, Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay managed to reach the peak at 1130 local time on 29 May.

"I continued hacking steps along the ridge and then up a few more to the right... to my great delight I realised we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us," Sir Edmund said.

The two men hugged each other with relief and joy but only stayed on the summit for 15 minutes because they were low on oxygen.

Sir Edmund took several photographs of the scenery and of Tenzing waving flags of Britain, Nepal, the UN and India.

News of the conquest of Everest did not reach the outside world until 2 June, the eve of the Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

He was knighted by the Queen for his achievement in 1953, and 42 years later was awarded her highest award for chivalry - the Order of the Garter.

Obituary: Sir Edmund Hillary
10 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Life in pictures: Sir Edmund Hillary
11 Jan 08 |  In Pictures
'My Himalayan climb with Hillary'
11 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Sir Edmund Hillary: Your comments
10 Jan 08 |  Have Your Say
Sir Edmund urges climate care
10 Jul 05 |  South Asia
Hillary laments Everest changes
26 May 03 |  South Asia
Everest half-century celebrated
30 May 03 |  South Asia
In pictures: Everest celebrations
29 May 03 |  Photo Gallery

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