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Monday, May 3, 1999 Published at 16:11 GMT 17:11 UK

World: South Asia

Everest pioneer's body found

More than 750 climbers have reached summit; 150 have died trying

An expedition to Nepal may be on the brink of discovering whether Mount Everest was conquered 30 years earlier than previously thought.

Sir Edmund Hilary and Larry Johnstone: "They didn't have to do an awful lot of searching for the body"
New Zealander Sir Edmund Hillary and his Nepalese guide Sherpa Tenzing are universally accredited with reaching the summit first, in 1953.

But the discovery of the body of an English climber, George Mallory, who disappeared in 1924 while trying to conquer the summit with fellow Briton Andrew Irvine, is set to reopen the question.

Did they or didn't they?

Mallory and Irvine were last seen on the North Side - apparently within 2,000ft of the world's highest peak. But they never returned.

One of the climbers Dave Hahn describes the moment when they found the body
Now a party of climbers say they have found the body of Mallory at about 27,000ft - roughly 2,000ft short of the summit.

It is not clear whether Mallory and Irvine died on their way up or down from the summit.

The search is now on for Mallory's Kodak camera - which he kept in his knapsack - which could prove whether the pair reached "the top of the world".

The BBC's John McIntyre: "History may have to be re-written"
Photographic experts say if the camera is found it is likely the extreme cold would have preserved the film.

The progress of the eight climbers who found the body has been relayed back to their site on the Internet,

Kodak spokesman Paul Allen: "If the camera was damaged and light got in the film would be ruined"
Eric Simonson, the leader of the Nova expedition, and fellow climber Dave Hahn, who was the first to come across Mallory's body, described their delight on the Seattle-based Website.

'Beyond our wildest dreams'

"I want to convey how much, for us, this discovery is a huge achievement and so far beyond our wildest dreams," he writes.

"It is hard to convey our excitement over this discovery."

The body was found about 2,000ft (615m) from the windblown 29,028-ft (8,848m) summit, not far from that of a Chinese climber whose accounts were used by the Nova crew to try to locate Mallory and Irvine.

[ image: Sir Edmund Hillary: Perhaps not the first]
Sir Edmund Hillary: Perhaps not the first
The corpse was protruding through the snow, wearing tweed clothes and leather shoes, with a rope still around his waist. It had been preserved in excellent condition because of the dry air and freezing conditions.

However, a camera or any other evidence, which could prove they reached the summit 29 years before Sir Edmund and Sherpa Tenzing, has yet to be found.

'Lying in snow for 75 years'

"When we realised that it was George Mallory, we were really blown away," said Mr Hahn.

"We didn't want to disturb him, he'd been lying there for 75 years, but at the same time we thought what better tribute to the man than to try and find out if he had summitted Mount Everest in 1924."

They buried the body, according to the family's wishes, on Everest.

Graham Hoyland, assistant producer of 'Lost on Everest' is convinced Mallory made it to the summit
Jochen Hemmleb, a 28-year-old German climber and Mallory historian, chose a location for the team to search based largely on a report from the climber, Wang Hongbao, of a body on the North Ridge route Mallory and Irvine would have taken.

Axe clue

Hongbao described the body as "English Dead," and indicated its vintage clothing broke to pieces when he touched it.

The body was found on a snow terrace, just below the spot where an ice axe believed to be Irvine's was found in 1933.

The axe had three notches on the handle, which was how Irvine marked his equipment.

Two days after Hongbao told his story in 1975, he died in an avalanche on Everest's North Face.

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