Tributes have been paid to Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to reach the top of the world’s highest peak, Mount Everest, after he died aged 88.
New Zealand PM Helen Clark said a state funeral would be held for Sir Edmund, while Queen Elizabeth II said she was “very saddened” by his death.

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Nepali Sherpas lit lamps and offered special Buddhist prayers in monasteries for his reincarnation.

Sir Edmund conquered the peak with Tenzing Norgay on 29 May 1953.

The first living New Zealander to appear on a banknote, his health had reportedly been failing since April, when he suffered a fall during a visit to Nepal.

‘Legendary’

Flags at the New Zealand parliament in Wellington and at the Scott Base in Antarctica were at half mast as a mark of respect to the climber, who died of a heart attack at Auckland Hospital at 0900 local time Friday (2000 GMT Thursday).

All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing
Helen Clark
New Zealand PM

New Zealand’s prime minister described him as a “colossus”.

“The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived,” Ms Clark said in a statement.

“But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi.

“He was ours – from his craggy appearance to laconic style, to his directness and honesty. All New Zealanders will deeply mourn his passing.”

‘Knocked off’

Buckingham Palace in London said the Queen was sending a personal message of sympathy to Sir Edmund’s widow and family.

The climber was 33 years old when he and Tenzing Norgay become the first men to climb the 8,850m (29,035ft) peak, just days before the monarch’s coronation.

Before reaching base camp, ascent team walked 175 miles (282km) from Kathmandu and spent three weeks acclimatising
On May 26 initial attempt came within 300ft (91m) of summit, with final bid two days later
Five man team helped Hillary and Norgay to precarious point high up mountain where pair spent night in tent
Next morning they set out at 0630, reaching summit 1130
Source: Royal Geographical Society

Returning to Everest’s South Col camp, he famously greeted another member of the British expedition group with the words: “Well, George, we’ve knocked the bastard off.”

Sir Edmund was knighted that year by the Queen for his achievement, and 42 years later was awarded her highest award for chivalry – the Order of the Garter.

His climbing partner died in 1986 but his son, Jamling Tenzing Norgay, said Sir Edmund was “a great explorer”.

“The most important of all is that he was humble man, a simple man,” he added.

The Sherpa community in Nepal said they were planning a memorial to the man they considered a second father.

“I lit butter lamps and offered prayers for his reincarnation as a human being,” said Ang Rita Sherpa, 60.

After scaling Everest, Sir Edmund led a number of expeditions to the South Pole and devoted his life to helping the ethnic Sherpas of Nepal’s Khumbu region.

Summit race

His Himalayan Trust has helped build hospitals, clinics, bridges, airstrips and nearly 30 schools. He was made an honorary Nepalese citizen in 2003.

To my great delight I realised we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us
Sir Edmund Hillary

Born in Auckland on 19 July 1919, Sir Edmund began climbing mountains in his native country as a teenager and soon earned renown as an ice climber.

By the time he attempted his ascent of Everest in 1953 as part of an expedition led by the British climber, Sir John Hunt, seven previous expeditions to the top of the mountain had failed.

After a gruelling climb up the southern face, battling the effects of high altitude and bad weather, Sir Edmund and Tenzing Norgay managed to reach the peak at 1130 local time on 29 May.

“I continued hacking steps along the ridge and then up a few more to the right… to my great delight I realised we were on top of Mount Everest and that the whole world spread out below us,” Sir Edmund said.

The two men only stayed on the summit for 15 minutes because they were low on oxygen.

* Story from BBC NEWS