Team probes why climbers die on Mount Everest

December 10, 2008

TORONTO, ON. - For the first time ever, an international team of experts has probed every known death on the world's tallest mountain, shedding some light on what makes Mount Everest one of the most dangerous places on earth.

The team's surprising findings shatter commonly-held beliefs about the prevalence of deaths caused by avalanches, falling ice and pulmonary oedema (lung problems) and highlight severe weather deterioration as a major factor in deaths.

"We know that climbing Mount Everest is dangerous because more than 200 people have died trying to scale it, but never before has anyone studied these deaths with such a collaborative or fine-tooth approach," says University of Toronto Mississauga Physics professor Kent Moore, one of two U of T co-authors on the report. "We now know with much more certainty what factors play a major role - and which factors do not."

The team, made up of North American and British experts in medicine, physiology and meteorology, examined 212 reported deaths on Everest between 1921 and 1996. Among their key findings, published online now in the British Medical Journal:"Because of our combined diversity and experience, we've really been able to pinpoint the most critical factors that cause death on Mount Everest," says Dr. John Semple, Professor of Surgery at U of T. "These findings will provide a foundation of improved safety for both mountaineers and sherpas."
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The international team was led by Dr. Paul Firth from Massachusetts General Hospital and included researchers from the UK, Canada and the US.

For more information, please contact:

Kent Moore, Physics professor: 647-808-5132 or gwk.moore@utoronto.ca

Dr. John Semple, Surgery professor: 416-323-7555 or john.semple@wchospital.ca

April Kemick, media relations officer: 416-978-0100 or april.kemick@utoronto.ca

University of Toronto

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