Skydivers set for new heights over Everest

KATHMANDU Tue Sep 23, 2008 12:12pm EDT

1 of 2. Nigel Gifford (L), organizer of the skydiving team, demonstrates the use of an oxygen mask on one of his diving members in Kathmandu, September 23, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Gopal Chitrakar

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KATHMANDU (Reuters) - Dozens of skydivers will attempt the first parachute jumps over Mount Everest next week, organizers said on Tuesday.

At least 34 skydivers from 14 countries, including Britain, the United States, Canada, Denmark and New Zealand plan to jump from an aircraft flying 465 feet above the Everest summit on October 2.

Hurtling past the 8,850-meter (29,035 feet) peak, the skydivers plan, weather permitting, to freefall for 1 minute before deploying their parachutes and cruising for 8-10 minutes to land in a flat drop zone at 12,350 feet.

"This will be the most important event in the Himalayan adventure since 1953," said Nigel Gifford, owner of the British company High & Wild which has organized the team.

"To freefall in front of Mount Everest with four other highest mountains is an exceptional experience," said Gifford, 62, who climbed Everest in 1976. "It has never been done before."

Mount Everest was first climbed by New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay Sherpa 55 years ago.

Each participant will wear an oxygen mask and carry a larger than normal parachute to help a fast descent through the thin air of the world's highest drop zone.

"It is a very big adventure, it is a truly historic adventure," said 40-year-old Danish participant Per Wimmer.

"This is not walking the path. This is true adventure," said Wimmer, a financier and entrepreneur living in London, adding that the plan was not free from risk.

Not finding the drop zone after the fall, extreme cold and malfunctioning of oxygen masks were some of the potential hazards, Wimmer said.

(Editing by Bappa Majumdar and Alex Richardson)

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