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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Rescuers Made Tough Choice To Leave Comatose Climber

George Tibbits Associated Press

Scott Fischer was known as “Mr. Rescue,” an experienced guide able to get other climbers up - and down - some of the world’s tallest peaks.

On Saturday, he was found clipped with another climber to a rope 2,000 feet below the summit of Mount Everest. Comatose and barely breathing after spending the night exposed in a fierce storm, Fischer was left bundled with an oxygen bottle as the rescue party concentrated on saving his companion, whom they had managed to revive.

Fischer, 40, is presumed dead, one of eight climbers believed to have died in one of the deadliest days on Earth’s highest mountain.

Also missing and presumed dead were another American, Douglas Hansen, 44, of Renton, Wash., two New Zealanders, three climbers from India, and a Japanese climber.

Fischer, who dropped out of school at 14 to become a mountain climber, thoroughly knew the dangers he faced, said Karen Dickinson, his partner in the Seattle guide company Mountain Madness.

“He’s known as Mr. Rescue,” Dickinson said. “A lot of people owe their lives to Scott.”

In 1990, Fischer was the first American to ascend 27,923-foot Mount Lhotse, the world’s fourth-highest mountain. In 1992, he climbed the second-highest peak, K2, and scaled Everest last summer.

Last August, he led an expedition safely down Broad Peak in Pakistan during a storm that killed British climber Alison Hargreaves nearby on K2. In January, he climbed Africa’s Mount Kilimanjaro as part of an effort that raised $1 million in donations for CARE.

This time, he was leading the fourth Everest Environmental Expedition, in which climbers and Nepalese sherpas planned to pack out trash left by earlier climbs. In comments posted on the Internet magazine Outside Online days before his death, he described the dangers.

What frightened him most, Fischer said, was “making a bad decision and dying in the mountains, to be perfectly honest. Not coming home from a trip, leaving my kids without a dad. That scares me.”

After stocking the series of climbing camps, getting people used to the altitude and working on the mountain, the plan was to attempt the summit and get down as rapidly as possible, before darkness set in, Fischer said in another posting.

“If you can’t find your camp on your way down at night, you’re setting yourself up for disaster,” he said.

Disaster struck Friday after Fischer led his own team to the top and back to the relative safety of South Col. Fragmentary reports indicated he then went to the aid of a New Zealand expedition led by Rob Hall, with whom he had led simultaneous climbs at Everest in the past.

Fischer was found unconscious that night by his team’s physician but could not be rescued. Instead, rescuers focused on saving another climber with Fischer.

Hall also is presumed dead. A friend said Monday that Hall, crippled with frostbite but able to operate his radio, had a final conversation with his pregnant wife before perishing alone near the peak.

Accounts of Fischer’s expedition were carried on the World Wide Web by Outside Online, a magazine published by Starwave Corp. of Bellevue.

A Monday posting on the Web site described the difficult choice faced by guide Neal Beidleman and others, who had become separated from Fischer after the freak storm struck the mountain Friday night.

The climbers had been forced to bivouac. A team of sherpas went back up Saturday and at the 27,000-foot level found Fischer and Makalu Gao, leader of a Taiwanese group that had lost another climber in a fall Thursday. The rescuers managed to revive Gao, but Fischer was barely breathing, in a deep coma.

“Neal said it looked (like) they had sat down to wait out the storm at about the same time the rest of the team realized they would have to spend the night out,” Dickinson said in the Outside Online posting. “They must have been in an exposed area, or the shared heat from two bodies was not enough.”

The rescuers determined Fischer’s chances of survival were slim, and left him bundled up with an oxygen bottle as they worked to get Gao to a lower camp.

“They had to choose between the two and they took the one that might live,” Dickinson said.

Monday morning, Gao and 49-year-old Seaborne B. Weathers of Dallas were airlifted from the mountain by a Nepalese helicopter.

Two other Northwest climbers, with Alpine Ascents of Woodinville, Wash., remained on the mountain with a group they were leading.

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