Safer Everest Rescues with Unmanned Chopper

I can’t ever imagine climbing Mt. Everest myself, but that hasn’t stopped me from living vicariously through John Krakauer in his book, Into Thin Air, one of my all-time favorites. The dangers of climbing the world’s tallest mountain are unparalleled; the 2006 climbing season alone saw the deaths of fifteen people — that’s one in every ten successful summits.

New Zealand based organization, Everest Rescue Trust, is looking to make climbing Everest a little bit safer by building an unmanned helicopter capable of rescuing the injured from the mountain’s high elevation and extreme terrain. The organization’s “goodwill ambassador” is none other than Mark Inglis, the first and only double amputee to climb Everest and star of the amazing Discovery Channel show, Everest: Beyond the Limit, which featured a group of climbers as they made their 2006 bid for the summit. Mark, along with a few other members of the group, stirred up controversy for the decision to forgo a rescue attempt on an injured, dying climber they found on their decent. “If you’re above 8,000 meters, and you can’t walk, you can’t live,” he told a reporter in a television interview for the Everest helicopter project.

Even if the project is successful, it won’t be the first time a helicopter has been to the top of Mt. Everest. On May 14th, 2005, a Eurocopter (with pilot) flew to the the summit and briefly landed just long enough to give it a world record for the highest take off ever — one that’s impossible to beat, unless another mountain mysteriously grows taller than Everest in the next few million years.

So wait, why can’t one of these Eurocopters rescue someone? In short, the winds on Everest are far too dangerous and unpredictable at high elevations — so much so that any attempt to land in such conditions is a huge risk for the pilot. This is where the unmanned chopper idea really shines. With the pilot controlling the helicopter from the safety of base camp, the only risk in a rescue attempt is damage to the machine.

The success of this project could mean a lot for the safety of future Everest mountaineers, but it could also mean an influx of even more inexperienced climbers, whose lack of experience and skill is often replaced with money in the bank. Some say the recent rise in Everest’s amateur climber population is responsible for the growing number of deaths.

What might potentially save the climber could, in fact, end up killing him or her.

[via Engadget]