Magazine article Geographical

In My Opinion

Magazine article Geographical

In My Opinion

Article excerpt

This summer, the team which found George Mallory's body on Everest in 1999 will return to search for his colleague Andrew Irvine. Doug Scott, president of the Alpine Club, calls for them to do so with compassion

WHEN GEORGE LEIGH Mallory's body was found on Mount Everest two summers ago, photographs in the media of his porcelain-white skin both repulsed and fascinated readers. Mallory had lain on the mountain since 8 June 1924, when he had set out with Andrew Irvine to try and be the first to reach the summit. His remarkably preserved corpse was discovered by a joint BBC and US expedition team which aimed to find the climbers' bodies, locate the camera they had carried and prove whether or not they made it to the top 29 years before Hillary and Tenzing officially gained this accolade.

This summer, an expedition is returning to Everest to continue the search for Irvine's body and the missing camera. The plans have prompted us at the Alpine Club to release a statement on how the expedition members should behave when dealing with the sensitive issue of dead climbers. The statement can be read at Should team members find the body of Irvine, we are calling on them to contact his family before anyone else and to treat his body with respect while searching for the camera or other items. I'm pleased to say that our message has been enthusiastically received by climbers and alpine clubs around the world.

We were prompted to issue the statement after events when the 1999 expedition found Mallory. For the TV companies supporting the expedition and the newspapers which ran the photographs, it was a great story, combining adventure, history and great human endeavour. But for the relatives of the two climbers, some of whom had known the pair, the media revelations came as a shock. They had no idea that expedition leader, Eric Simonsen, had offered photographs of Mallory's body to an agent who had simply sold them to the highest bidder. They were also concerned that the team had held a committal service for Mallory's body on the mountainside, covered the corpse in scree, then later returned to disinter the body and search once more for the camera. As the deceased's closest flesh and blood, they felt that their emotions had been trampled in the rush to expose the `story'.

The return of the expedition to Everest has highlighted the need for a debate on how best to marry conflicting interests when bodies are found. It's basically a question of how far you should go. No-one would argue that the 5,300-year-old `iceman', discovered by German tourists in an Alpine glacier in 1991 should have been left without scientists having an opportunity to examine the body. Regarded as one of the most important archaeological finds of all time, he was the first mummified Stone Age man to be discovered with clothes on and laden with equipment. We have learned much from him about Stone Age food, weapons and activities.

The difficulties arise when people who know the deceased are still alive. My opinion is that no-one -- be they individual climbers or documentary makers -- should allow their ambitions to overrule respect for the dead. In other sports, competitors will go out of their way to help a rival in distress. For example, in 1997, sailor Pete Goss sacrificed his own chances of winning the Vendee Globe Yacht race to rescue French competitor Raphael Dinelli.

Not only did he relinquish the opportunity to win, he risked his own life by sailing through huge waves for two days and nights, and then nursed the sick sailor for four days onboard his boat. …

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