Tales From the Crypt: An Unscheduled Flight
—An unguided tour through the AAC’s Himalayan Library—
Longtime AAC member and 1983 Everest Expedition Team Member John M. Boyle is fascinated by mountains, the men and women who devote themselves to scaling them, and the significant literary contributions they have made. He has spent years collecting books, autographs, maps, photographs, and ephemera related to the mountaineering history of the range. Boyle generously donated his collection to the AAC Library.
What follows is one of the many short articles researched and composed by Boyle in an attempt to catalog and highlight the humorous, tragic, quirky, or downright bizarre aspects of the Himalaya revealed in this impressive collection. The AAC Library will be posting excerpts of Boyle’s articles throughout the upcoming months.
— John M. Boyle —
In the fall of 1982 a Canadian team mounted an assault up the normal South Col Route. This was the first Canadian attempt on the mountain. Summit Day was scheduled for 8 October. The television company ABC was anxious to obtain the first live footage from the summit. They had established a extensive (and expensive) electronic infrastructure on land to relay information from base camp to Kathmandu. Unfortunately, the technology of the day made the rest of the plan very challenging: the 8mm video camera had just been developed by Sony (image quality was still very poor), cell phone technology was just emerging (think brick-sized, Zach-Morris-phones), and satellite phone communication was still far in the future.
ABC’s expedition leader decided to hire and then strip down the Pilatus Porter Short Take Off and Landing aircraft that Royal Nepal Airways maintained in Kathmandu, then fly it up the Western Cwm in an attempt to film the summit team on top. The pilot was Emil Wick—the most seasoned in the Himalayas. The aircraft had been Wick’s until Royal Nepal decided that he, and his airplane, needed to be nationalized.
On the 8th the Porter took off from Kathmandu, completely stripped of everything that could be removed. The plane had a nominal service ceiling of 20,000 feet; ascending an additional 9,000 feet—even for a few minutes—represented a considerable technical task. Wick had the mechanics tune the controls on the PT6A turbine to deal with diminished air pressure, in the hopes that such tweaks would allow he and the cameraman to ascend to the requisite elevations more safely. Due to the critical weight restrictions, even the omnipresent Liaison Officer also had to be left behind. Such an action was only allowed due to Wick’s senior position within Royal Nepal Airways—he could be expected to understand the gravity of straying into Chinese airspace.
The flight was timed for a noon rendezvous with the summit team. Weather was perfect. The camera rolled as the plane made its way slowly up the Cwm and banked across the southwest face, struggling for altitude—finally climbing to 29,000 feet. The men in the aircraft passed the summit right at noon and found that the summit team was nowhere in sight, having arrived there at around 10 a.m and, not wishing to lounge about for two hours, began their descent.
Wick then decided to ignore his edict to avoid Chinese airspace, banking to the right and circling the summit—in the process getting the first “up-close-and-personal” footage of the imposing Kangshung (east) face of the peak. When the plane landed back in Kathmandu, Wick said nothing and the cameraman said, “No climbers, no pictures.”
The following summer, I was in the office of the ABC manager who had come up with the airplane idea. He told me the full story and related to me ABC’s frustrations with Everest. The network had partially financed three expeditions to Everest in hopes of obtaining broadcast-quality summit image. All three had failed to accomplish that goal. ABC had now officially given up on the mountain. I had come to him with hat-in-hand to see if they would participate in our forthcoming East Face Expedition. The gentleman simply said, “No.” Then he handed me the master tape from Wick’s illegal flight, saying, “ABC will be banned in Nepal and China if this is to surface. You may have it on the condition that my name not arise, and the tape be hidden.”
This master tape is in the Himalayan Library.
In 2000, while attending the Der Berg Ruft exhibition in Salzburg, Austria, I had an opportunity to show the film to the exhibition’s organizer, Dr. Martin Uitz. Enthralled, he bade me to release it to him.
I had previously been on a charter flight around the northern aspects of Dhaulagiri, Annapurna, Manaslu, and the Fish’s Tail with the Chinese UIAA representative. After a rather complicated conversation with him—during which I suggested that I was the cameraman—I received permission to show the film, which then ran through the duration of the exhibition.
The tape has been converted to DVD and is in the Himalayan Library. It is innocuously titled “1982 Canadian Everest Expedition.”
About the John M. Boyle Himalayan Library
The John M. Boyle Himalayan Library contains over 3,000 books detailing every significant—and many not-so-significant—expeditions to the region from the 1880s to the present. The majority of the books have been autographed by the author and other expedition members. Where multiple editions or translations exist, Boyle has endeavored to collect these and have them autographed as well. This is the only mountaineering collection in the world to have such extensive personal writings from the expedition members.
About the AAC Library
The Henry S. Hall, Jr. American Alpine Club Library has a circulating collection of 20,000+ climbing books, guidebooks, and videos. As an AAC benefit, the Club will ship members up to 10 books/guidebooks/videos at a time for free. Search for and check out books at booksearch.americanalpineclub.org. (Email the library for access to our new and improved online catalog.)
To enjoy this benefit, unite with your fellow climbers by joining the AAC. Established in 1916, the library is one of the oldest alpine research facilities in the United States, and the largest outside of Europe.
Comments are closed.