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Saturday 24 August 2019

'I knew Shay was gone' - Everest climber tells how descent ended in tragedy

Climber Seamus Lawless
Climber Seamus Lawless

The family of an Irish climber who fell and disappeared after scaling Mount Everest knew within hours there was little chance of finding him alive, the expedition leader has revealed.

Father-of-one Seamus 'Shay' Lawless (39), a professor of artificial intelligence at Trinity College Dublin, died only hours after fulfilling his lifelong dream of standing on top of the world's highest peak.

He fell during his descent at an altitude of 8,300 metres. Despite a fundraising campaign to finance a search operation, his remains were not found.

Mr Lawless, from Bray, tackled the climb to raise up to €25,000 for the Barr- etstown charity.

The expedition and search teams led by Co Down man Noel Hanna returned home yesterday to meet Mr Lawless' pregnant wife Pamela, and Jenny Copeland, who had acc- ompanied them on the climb.

"From the moment I was told that Shay was missing, I knew that if we didn't find him within an hour he had very little chance of surviving," Mr Hanna said.

"It wasn't until the day after Shay went missing that I spoke to his family and Pamela.

"I had to tell them the facts and not give them false hope.

"The expedition had gone like clockwork up until we started to come down.

"Shay was a stronger climber than the two girls, Jenny and Saray N'kusi Khumalo, and he decided to go ahead of us with the lead Sherpa.

"Shay should have been back at Camp Four about 90 minutes before us.

"I was taking my gear off when Pemba, the lead Sherpa, said he couldn't find Shay.

Slipping

"Basically, Pemba said Shay had told him that he needed to answer a call of nature. He needed to go, even though camp was only 200 metres away.

"We believe Shay must have unclipped himself from the safety ropes and been caught by a gust of wind along with slipping on blue ice."

Before trying to find Mr Lawless, Mr Hanna told the two women what had happened.

"Obviously, Jenny and Saray were distraught," he said.

"We managed to spend an hour looking, but the weather was turning very bad.

"Jenny nearly collapsed due to the cold and from hypothermia and I wasn't going to put anyone's lives at risk. I knew then Shay was gone from us."

The following morning, the group searched for Mr Lawless again around the spot where he was last seen.

"Some of the drops were up to 1,000 metres down from where Shay had been," Mr Hanna said.

"Reality had to kick in and I had to put what happened to the back of my mind and get the girls back down as the trek to Base Camp is very dangerous."

After spending three days recovering, Mr Hanna took part in the search operation.

Mr Lawless' rucksack, crampons, goggles and broken oxygen mask were found, but not his body.

"Shay was in unbelievable form on Everest, laughing and singing, and solace can be taken from that," Mr Hanna said before meeting Mrs Lawless.

"Meeting with Pamela will be tough, but it's the very least anyone could do."

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