DOCUMENTARY CHANNEL – Wednesday 28 April, 8.30pm
On 15 May, 2006 double amputee Mark Inglis reached the summit of Mt Everest. It was a remarkable achievement and Inglis was feted by press and public but only a few days later, he was plunged into a storm of controversy when it was learned he had passed an incapacitated climber, Englishman David Sharp, leaving him to a lonely death high in the Death Zone. Sir Edmund Hillary judged it the selfish behaviour of a modern generation. The audience will be confronted with the question – what would I have done? David Sharp, from the UK, a Yorkshire teacher who was determined to succeed alone, with minimal support and without oxygen. He had a fascination with Mallory and Irvine who disappeared trying the reach the summit. Like Mallory & Irving this was David’s third attempt and he was determined it would be his last. It was amusing to his friends that David, like Irvine, would refer to the Everest camps as British Camp 1 or British Camp 2.
Like Irvine David carried a book of Shakespeare and a camera for just one purpose; to record himself standing on the summit. He told his friends he was an atheist, and yet he carried with him a Bible still bearing the sticker from the shop where he bought it a few weeks before in Kathmandu. We follow the story of David through the account of Jamie McGuiness who befriended him. In New Zealand, Sir Edmund Hillary was outraged by reports of climbers ignoring Sharpe as they made their way to the summit. Suggesting he would have aborted his own historic climb to aid the young Briton, Hillary declared that human life was “far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain.” Nearly two weeks after Sharp’s death, Australian climber Lincoln Hall was rescued from even higher on the mountain after being left for dead and spending a night exposed to the elements. It took more than a dozen Sherpa’s and 50 cylinders of oxygen, but Hall walked down under his own steam.
When Mark Inglis returned to New Zealand to face further amputations on his legs and fingers he met a frenzy of media who blamed him for the death of Sharp. The man who had summited the world’s highest mountain with no legs entered a storm of controversy. For him, the public acrimony and disparaging media comments was far worse than any pain of amputation. His spirit was shattered. Ingles’ climbing comrades were equally outraged. Their target was the media and Sir Edmund himself. How could anyone expect a man with artificial legs to rescue someone who couldn’t even walk? Mark Whetu who and had been there with Inglis, and has rescued others from peril on Everest said the effort of carrying a person at that altitude was like “putting a plastic bag over your head to restrict oxygen, lifting someone twice your weight and carrying them down a ladder with a 1,000 meter drop a few inches away.” Sir Edmund Hillary did not retract his comments.
As a result of his climb, Mark Inglis was able to collect donations to pay for artificial legs like his own for more than 1000 Cambodian children and adults who lost their legs to land mines.