The Mount Everest is an irresistible challenge for adventurers from all over the world. Many have followed its call, but many have risked too much. More than 200 mountaineers died during their expeditions. For helicopters it was impossible to reach the 8,850 meters / 29,035 feet peak for long time. But in May 2005, a French helicopter team set out to land on the Mount Everest. Their aircraft: a customary helicopter with a normal service ceiling of 7,000 m / 23,300 ft. Lukla (elevation 2,800 m / 9,300 ft) has been selected as the base camp of the seven-headed team. Pilot is the Frenchman Didier Delsalle. The 48-year-old is an experienced test pilot with 6,000 helicopter flying hours. It is the 14th May 2005, when an ideal weather window opens with favorable winds. Delsalle buckles on the oxygen mask and starts the 850-horsepower turbine. Early in the morning the single-engine helicopter takes-off from Lukla. For his record flight to the 6,000 m / 20,000 ft higher summit … … all not necessary parts have been removed. This saves 120 kilograms / 260 pounds. But even with this reduced weight … … the helicopter won´t make it to the summit with its own power. The air up there is simply too thin, and the rotor can not generate enough lift. Therefore Delsalle will also need updrafts. Beyond the service ceiling climb performance decreases significantly. That means: finding updrafts! Delsalle must have an accurate picture of how the wind flows around and over the mountain. In fact, the Frenchman catches an updraft carrying him toward the summit. Gradually the helicopter climbs up. Delsalle gets the most out of his machine. If the engine would quit now, it would be a deep fall. During the approach, the Frenchman must avoid the leeward side of the mountain. The downdrafts would tear him into the depths. He carefully approaches the summit. The controls are reacting slowly in the thin air. It´s cold in the cockpit. Shortly after 7 clock the skids of the helicopter touch down on the mountaintop. The rules of the international aviation organization FAI for the record: The skids must remain on the ground for 2 minutes. The wind speed is almost 100 km/h / 55 knots. The outside temperature is -32 °C / -25 °F. The turbine works at maximum take-off power. Delsalle can´t keep the helicopter on the stormy summit no longer. He must take-off again. Delsalle is not sure. Were the skids really on the ground for 2 minutes? Will the touchdown be accepted as a landing? Only the video analysis in the base camp will bring certainty. Back in Lukla. An observer from the FAI checkes the camera. It was running, that´s good news. But did the skids touch the ground for 2 minutes? They did. In fact, they did for 3 minutes and 50 seconds. The Eurocopter team is celebrating its pilot as a hero. Delsalle gives the compliments back. To his team.
And to his machine. The Eurocopter AS 350 Écureuil is common helicopter … … and has been modified for the record only slightly. It did not let him down. I´ve approached the mountain very slowly. At some point I felt that it could work. Then I went down. I got closer very slowly. These 2 minutes on the summit seemed to me like an eternity. Didier Delsalle has landed his AS 350 on Mount Everest. At 8,850 m / 29,035 ft above sea level. He has set a record that nobody can beat, because the mountain accepted him on its summit … … for 3 minutes and 50 seconds.