The extremely thin air on the top of Mount Everest has prevented helicopters from flying on altitudes of over 8000 meters. Until test pilot Didier Delsalle took to the task and made aviation history by flying to 9000m of altitude and landing his helicopter on the top of Mount Everest in the process.
A first on the top of Mount Everest
Ever since Hillary and Norgay claimed the first ascent to the summit of Everest in 1953, many other adventurists have attempted their own “firsts” on the 29,035-foot (8,848-meter) top of Mount Everest.
But on May 14, 2005, test pilot Didier Delsalle, 48, of the French company Eurocopter made Everest and aviation history by landing his unmodified turbo engine AS350 B3 helicopter on the world’s tallest mountaintop. In spite of 121 km/h winds Delsalle managed to land his heli on the tiny Everest peak proving his world-class helicoptering skills.
Delsalle even made two landing on the top of Everest to prove that the feat was not stroke of luck and could be repeated. To qualify as a landing, you have to touch down for at least two minutes. The first day Delsalle landed for three minutes and 50 seconds. On the second day he repeated it parking his helicopter on Everest for a whole four minutes.
World record: highest ever helicopter landing
Didier Delsalle’s solo flight broke the unofficial record for highest helicopter landing, previously held by Nepalese Lt. Col. Madan Khatri Chhetri, who in 1996 rescued climbers Beck Weathers and Makulu Gau near Camp I at approximately 20,000 feet (6,096 meters).
Although Nepalese authorities initially gave Delsalle clearance, they later rebuked him for flying without permission. Some climbers also expressed dismay that he topped out without the hard slog, but six-time summiter David Hahn said, “I look at it kind of selfishly. It improves the possibility of rescues in the future.”
Asked what was the hardest part about landing a helicopter on the top of Mount Everest Delsalle said:
“The landing itself was the hardest part. I didn’t know if I was touching down on snow above rock or snow above nothing. If it was snow above nothing and the snow broke, it would have been difficult for me to increase the power and get away. Before attempting the Everest landing I had some sleepless nights thinking it through. During the approach, I was so focused I had tunnel vision. But I arrived very gently and asked the mountain to accept me. It was like making a new friend.”
Delsalle’s record breaking helicopter flight improves the prospects of potential future high-altitude rescue operations on Mount Everest. Delsalle reckons an even more powerful helicopter needs to be build in order to deal with the extreme (wind) forces on Everest. His flight however proved that it is possible after all.