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Everest shows its darkest face: Two deaths in three days
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May 18, 2005 18: 28 EST
Previously published May 3, 2005 12: 41 EST

Sherpas, fixed ropes, oxygen, higher camps, etc. It doesn’t matter what tools or techniques we use to make our climb easier. Everest is the highest mountain on earth, and sometimes it shows its somber face to remind us that we can’t let our guard down. Mistakes aren’t allowed, and underestimating the mountain can result in fatal accidents.

Two deaths before the summit push

Two men have died on the mountain in three days, and the climb has barely started. Teams had not even reached the “death zone” yet. The victims were not surprised by a storm or an avalanche. They were not exhausted and dizzy after reaching the summit, when many accidents happen. Moreover, at least one of the deaths perhaps could have been avoided.

American Michael Corey O’Brien, 39 years old, fell to his death in the Khumbu icefall while descending to BC from C1, according to Nepal’s Ministry of Tourism , Culture and Civil Aviation official report.

Not clipped to the fixed ropes

The initial news said that he had fallen into a crevasse. However, Adventure Consultant team members were on the spot, and they all agree that the accident occurred in the following way: “It was clear that this climber was not clipped into the fixed ropes at the time of his fall; thus, a slip which should have been quickly arrested resulted in a fatal fall over a 10m drop.”

Michael himself had described the route through the icefall as easy. “The ice docs seem to have put up a good route,” he reported.

He sounded like a kid on Christmas

Hours before his death, he called his girlfriend Rebecca via satellite phone from Camp 2. “Mike, Tip and Dan were at Camp 2 and called in to say they are all well and doing fine,” reported Rebecca to friends and family that night. “They had hoped to go up towards Camp 3 but it was too snowy and there had been avalanches all week. Instead they were going back down to Base Camp for a couple days of R&R. Mike sounded like a kid on Christmas! His voice was high and breathy. He said he had been well but his throat hurt. He said Chris was also good and they felt confident that if the weather permitted a summit, they were in good shape and ready.”

The official press release notes that Dan Mazur is the leader of the expedition. According to Rebecca, he was with Mike in Camp 2 and they apparently went down at the same time.

Mike leaves behind a devastated family, already stricken by tragedy before the accident took place. Mike and Chris O’Brien - whose mother and sister died from complications from Huntington's disease - were climbing Mount Everest to try to raise $100,000 for the Hereditary Disease Foundation. They aimed to become the first two brothers to summit Everest together.

Tribute to Sean Egan in BC

Meanwhile, a massive puja ceremony was being held yesterday in BC as a tribute to Canadian Dr. Sean Egan. Team member Harold Mah reported on the climber’s farewell: “500 climbers and Sherpas will take part in the puja. I will not be here though, as I have packed everything up and I will start my hike back to Kathmandu. I will meet up with Sean’s children, Anna and Seamas, who are flying out to Kathmandu to bring their father home.”

According to the Ministry’s official press release, Egan “died on 29 April, 2005 due to high altitude sickness at Thukla (Solukhumbu) while descending from the Base Camp of Mt. Everest.” However, eyewitnesses claim a heart attack was the exact cause of death.

Dead on the way to the hospital

Egan had been dealing with a pulmonary infection; and started feeling bad on his trip up to C2 last week. He decided to retreat to lower altitudes along with his Sherpa and visit HRA hospital in Periche.

Egan called his teammate, Harold, from Thukla, stating he was too weak to continue further to Periche. Harold arranged for a helicopter evacuation. Apparently Sean collapsed, probably from cardiac arrest, as the helicopter arrived. They performed CPR on Egan, but were unable to save him.

Sean’s picture on the summit

Sean Egan shared Mountain Madness’ permit. An official source describes Egan as one of the ten team members in Mountain Madness’ expedition, led by Guillermo Benegas. Sean was however climbing Everest as an independent climber.

Today, Harold reached Namche Bazaar, but Sean’s spirit remains on the mountain. “Gabriel (a fellow Canadian) is taking a picture of Sean to the summit of Everest,” reported Harold. “He is deeply saddened by Sean's departure and now climbs in his honor.”

Michael Corey O’Brien, 39, was a river guide and bartender from Seattle, although he had grown up in Oswego, NY. He was known as "Big Mike" for his 6-foot-7 frame. He was climbing Everest along with his brother Christopher, 32. They aimed to climb the mountain and raise funds for the Hereditary Disease Foundation. Mike had climbed Cho Oyu and Kilimanjaro. As a preparation for Everest, he climbed Mount Rainer twice.

Ireland-born Dr. Sean Egan, 63, was associate professor at Ottawa University. He lived in Ontario, Canada. Egan hoped to be the oldest Canadian to ever summit Mount Everest. In preparation for his bid he successfully climbed Mount Aconcagua in Argentina. Sean was an athlete with skills in everything from soccer to boxing and beyond. Gravitating towards endurance-driven athletic events, Egan had completed a number of charity walks that included a 640-mile walk from Eugene, Oregon to San Francisco, California for cancer research and a march for children’s rights that took him from Toronto, Ontario to the step of the University of Ottawa.

Sean and Mike were the fist two casualties in the current Everest season. A record number of teams are attempting the mountain this year.

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