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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 January 2008, 02:01 GMT
Everest hero Hillary laid to rest
Royal New Zealand Air Force personnel stand behind Sir Edmund Hillary's casket in Holy Trinity Cathedral
The body of Sir Edmund Hillary will lie in state for 24 hours
New Zealand has bid a final farewell to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first climber to stand atop Mount Everest, at his state funeral in Auckland.

Dignitaries from around the world attended the service in St Mary's Church, which was beamed around the world via satellite links.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and Norbu Tenzing Norgay, the son of his climbing partner, led the tributes.

Sir Edmund, 88, died of a heart attack in Auckland on 11 January.

The prime minister accompanied the mountaineer's widow, Lady June Hillary, into Tuesday's church service.

Addressing the congregation, Ms Clark said: "Sir Ed described himself as a person of modest abilities. In reality he was a colossus, he was our hero.

"How privileged we were to have that living legend with us for 88 years."

National hero

Grey-bearded mountaineers mingled with saffron-robed Buddhist monks and Nepali Sherpas at the service to bid farewell to the mountaineer.

Peter Hillary
We always feared where dad was going to take us in the upcoming school holidays
Peter Hillary

"While we mourn his loss, his spirit will forever live and protect the great mountain and the people he loved so much," said Norbu Tenzing Norgay.

"When Sherpas heard the news of his death, their grief spiralled into mourning only comparable to the loss of a parent."

Sir Edmund's son, Peter, said adventure "was compulsory" in the Hillary family.

"We always feared where dad was going to take us in the upcoming school holidays. That shared adventure was one of the greatest gifts he gave to his family and friends."

Peter Hillary went on to become a mountaineer himself.

Dignitaries from Nepal, the US, Australia, Russia and India were among about 500 invited guests.

Around the country, the event was shown on large outdoor screens set up in several main centres, allowing tens of thousands of New Zealanders to pay their last respects.

A special television satellite link was also set up to Nepal and Antarctica.

After conquering Everest, Sir Edmund led several expeditions to the South Pole and helped ethnic Sherpas of Nepal's Khumbu region through his Himalayan Trust.

'Royal snub'

On Monday hundreds of people filed past his casket next door at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where he lay in state.

The legendary adventurer was commemorated with a Maori Haka dance following the funeral.

The cortege travelled through Auckland city streets before Sir Edmund was cremated at a private service.

A painting of Sir Edmund Hillary in New Zealand's Holy Trinity Cathedral
Tributes have been paid to the climber all around the world

The BBC's Nick Bryant in Auckland says some New Zealanders saw the absence of any member of Britain's royal family as a snub to their national hero.

The New Zealand Herald, the country's biggest-selling newspaper, broke the news last week under the headline: "Royal family snubs Sir Ed."

Governor-General Anand Satyanand attended the funeral service representing Queen Elizabeth II - who is also New Zealand's head of state.

Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay's ascent of Everest on 29 May 1953 ushered in the Elizabethan age, coming as the achievement did just days before the monarch's coronation. The Queen knighted Sir Edmund on his return.

But New Zealand's Prime Minister defended the British royals saying that the Queen, at 81 years old, was not in a position to travel at short notice.

The Queen has invited members of Sir Edmund's family to attend a memorial service in April at her private chapel in Windsor Castle.

Nepal mourns 'friend of Sherpas'
11 Jan 08 |  South Asia
Tributes for Everest 'colossus'
11 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific
Obituary: Sir Edmund Hillary
10 Jan 08 |  Asia-Pacific

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