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Prosthetic ice axe made for soldier

A soldier whose left arm was blown off in Afghanistan has helped design a prosthetic ice axe which he will use to climb Mount Everest.

Private Jaco van Gass, 25, from Middleburg, South Africa, was hit by a rocket propelled grenade (RPG) while serving for the Parachute Regiment in 2009.

He is one of a group of five injured servicemen who will set off on a 10-day walk to Everest Base Camp on Saturday and then push on to the 8,848m summit in May.

Pte van Gass, who trekked to the North Pole with the Walking With The Wounded charity last year, said he had the idea to fix an ice axe to a false limb and asked some engineers at the specialist military rehabilitation centre in Surrey to build one.

He said: "I came up with the idea to attach an ice axe to one of my prosthetics, so I kind of challenged the guys at Headley Court to see how we could get this done."

Pte van Gass bought an ice axe and staff at the centre sawed off the double sided head, then welded and bolted it to a specially-adapted prosthetic made of carbon fibre and plastic.

A key design feature Pte van Gass was keen to include was an electrical system to heat his stump. He asked the engineers to use wires to connect two heat patches moulded into the prosthetic to a battery back sewn into the paratrooper's thermal under layer just over his heart.

The warmth of his body helps the three AA batteries last longer as the cold drains their power very quickly.

"This will keep the arm inside nice and toasty," Pte van Gass said. "It's really essential for me because the lack of circulation in my arm actually prevents the flow of blood and oxygen at high altitude, so the arm gets really cold and is actually prone to frost-nip."

His team-mates for the assault on Mount Everest's peak are former Captain Martin Hewitt, 31, from Widnes, Cheshire, Captain David Wiseman, 29, from Tadcaster, North Yorkshire, Captain Francis Atkinson, 31, from Swindon, Wiltshire, and former Private Karl Hinett, 25, from Tipton, West Midlands.

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