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Makalu West Pillar: Sudden death of a Sherpa in BC
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May 16, 2005 09: 43 EST
Sumbu Sherpa, working for the Spanish “Al Filo” team, passed away yesterday in Makalu West’s BC (5400m). Sumbu was a kitchen helper and never intended to climb higher than BC; he suddenly felt sick yesterday and died in a few hours. The expedition’s doctor, Santiago Villanueva, did everything he could to save his life (including using emergency O2 and a gammow bag), but he wasn’t able to save Sumbu.

Cause of death uncertain

The symptoms indicate that pulmonary edema was the cause of death. However, everything happened so fast that a heart attack has not been ruled out. Sumbu was a highly experienced worker; he had participated in many expeditions before and never had problems with altitude. Sumbu reached BC one month ago and, until yesterday, showed no signs of illness.

The ‘Al Filo’ team is experiencing tragedy for the second time on Makalu’s West Pillar. During a previous expedition in 2002, six Sherpas died when the helicopter they were in crashed on the return flight from the mountain. Both the helicoper crew members died as well.

8485 meters high, Makalu is the fifth highest mountain on Earth. Its name means ‘The Great Black’. It is a four-faced pyramid, with a secondary peak - Chomo Lonzo or Makalu II (25,650 ft/7818 m) - separated from the main summit by a narrow saddle, known as Makalu La.

It was first climbed by a French team led by Jean Franco on May 15, 1955.

Makalu’s West Pillar was first climbed in 1971 by a French team led by Paragot. The West Pillar is a steep, 2000m long buttress that poses serious problems for Himalayan climbers. The climb includes highly rigorous sections, including a vertical wall known as the ‘Seigneur Wall’.

The Al Filo de lo Imposible team members are: Sebastian Alvaro (leader), Antonio Perez/Grueso, Ferrán Latorre, Eloi Callado, Alex Txicon, and Manuel Benito.

The GMAM team members are: Commander Alberto Ayora (leader), Commander Dr. Santiago Villanueva, Captain Fausto Blanco, Lieutenant Fermín Peñarroya, Brigadier Felix Criado, and Officer Francisco Borja.

Image of Makalu courtesy of Carlos Pauner.

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