After 36 Years, Sherpas Bring Daring Mt. Everest Helicopter Rescue Full Circle

Italia1 at base camp. Photo courtesy of Guido Landucci.

As glaciers melt – presumably as a result of global warming – mountaineers are stumbling upon the castoffs from long-ago climbing expeditions. All kinds of mementos – from empty cans of beans to dead bodies – are being released from icy tombs as the snow recedes.

One such discovery led to an unexpected meeting last week in Viterbo, Italy between mountaineers from Nepal and the son of an Italian Air Force captain, who piloted an ill-fated rescue mission 36 years ago.

Lifelong Viterbo resident Guido Landucci had wondered for years what had become of his father’s helicopter after it crashed on Mount Everest in 1973. He was a boy of 12 at the time and grew up hearing about the daring mission to rescue stranded climbers on their way to the top of the world’s highest peak. His father made it out alive. And no one was killed in the accident but the aircraft was left behind.

Apa Sherpa

It lay hidden under the snow until earlier this year, when Apa Sherpa, a legendary Nepalese guide, happened upon the wreckage. EIAA Italia1, the call sign of the Italian Air Force craft was clearly visible on the tail that jutted out of an expanse of whiteness. Somebody snapped a photo, which found its way into a presentation Apa gave to journalists at the annual GreenAccord environmental conference Nov. 27 in Viterbo, a city about 60 miles north of Rome.

He and his friend and fellow environmental activist Dawa Steven Sherpa had come to Italy on their way to climate talks next week in Copenhagen, where they will join in street marches aimed at pressuring world leaders for an international accord to combat global warming.

Nepal is one of those places where climate change is already showing itself with dramatic effect. As the glaciers retreat, the region’s fresh water supply is expected to decline, which could lead to severe water shortages. An even more immediate worry are unstable glacial lakes that form in valleys where the melt water accumulates.  Apa Sherpa, who has scaled Mount Everest 19 times, a world record, lost his home and nearly his life when one of these glacial lakes burst its banks and flooded the countryside below. Dozens of similar lakes threaten communities in Nepal, Peru and other high-mountain countries.

For the two climate activists, the photo of the downed helicopter merely illustrated expedition detritus surfacing as the snow goes.  What they didn’t know was that Landucci’s wife was in the audience and brought the news home to her husband that evening. The next day, Guido turned up at the conference and vowed to oversee retrieval of the helicopter in what will be a cleanup effort on a grand scale; The craft is considered the biggest piece of human waste ever left behind on the famous mountain.

Landucci, a financial adviser who has never been to Mount Everest, considers Apa Sherpa’s visit to his hometown a poetic turn of events and says he will find a way to retrieve the copter in the name of his father, Captain Paolo Landucci, who passed away in 2004. When I spoke with him the day after he made his promise, he planned to seek help from the Italian Air Force and mountaineering clubs and was looking forward to his first trip to Nepal.

“This is not the end of this story,” he says. “The story just beings again in another direction.”

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About greendistrict

I'm Christine MacDonald, a journalist and the author of the book: "Green, Inc., An Environmental Insider Reveals How a Good Cause Has Gone B

Posted on December 1, 2009, in Climate Change and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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