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Organiser of first US conquest of Mount Everest dies aged 99

A pioneering mountaineer who organised the first successful American expedition to Mount Everest has died aged 99.

Norman Dyhrenfurth, a Swiss-American mountaineer and filmmaker, led the team that put six climbers on the summit 10 years after Sir Edmund Hillary of New Zealand and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay of Nepal first achieved the feat.

Ditta Vogt, the sister of Dyhrenfuhrt's long-time partner, Maria Sernetz, said he died in Salzburg, Austria of natural causes in hospital.

Dyhrenfurth assembled the historic team of 19 mountaineers and scientists for the 1963 Everest Expedition that practically launched the modern US mountaineering and outdoor industry by putting the first Americans on top of the world's highest peak.

The US-led mountaineering expedition he led included 900 porters carrying about 26 tons of food, clothing, equipment and scientific instruments.

But he also was an accomplished cameraman and director who was head of the UCLA Film School in the 1950s and worked on movies such as Five Days One Summer and The Eiger Sanction, plus TV shows such as Americans On Everest.

The team of Americans set out in 1963 trying to climb Everest by two different routes at once.

Dyhrenfurth and his team of pioneering climbers, captured in a Life magazine cover story and honoured by President John F. Kennedy at a White House Garden reception, came to represent the birth of mountaineering as a popular sport in the United States.

The expedition enabled Jim Whittaker, a Seattle resident who went on to become chief executive of outdoors outfitter Recreational Equipment Inc, to become the first American to scale Everest.

He and Sherpa Nawang Gombu reached the top of the world on May 1 1963, a decade after the first ascent by Sir Edmund and Sherpa Tenzing.

The Whittaker feat came about six weeks after another climber on the US expedition, Jake Breitenbach, died in an avalanche.

Three weeks after Whittaker's ascent, the expedition enabled two other Americans, Tom Hornbein and the late Willi Unsoeld, to become the first men ever to scale Everest via a more dangerous route on the mountain's west side.

The next day, they descended by the southern route that Sir Edmund, Whittaker and by then, other members of the American team, had taken to the summit.

Successful climbs of Everest's West Ridge remain a rare event.

More people have reached the moon than successfully repeated the route taken by the pioneering pair.

Dyhrenfurth was born on May 7 1918 in Germany to Himalayan explorers Gunter Oskar and Hettie Dyhrenfurth, who were awarded a gold medal in alpinism at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin.

The family left for Austria and then settled in Switzerland in the 1920s, where they became citizens, then emigrated to the United States before the onset of the Second World War.

During the war, Dyhrenfurth's Army service won him US citizenship.


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