IAF women exorcise 2005 Everest ghost

June 3rd, 2011 - 3:00 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, June 3 (IANS) An Indian Air Force (IAF) team Friday formally concluded its Everest expedition by handing over the Indian tricolour and the IAF flag they had flown on the peak to the Indian Ambassador in Nepal Rakesh Sood and exorcising the expedition six years ago that saw the death of one of the climbers.

With seven climbers from the 14-member IAF team summiting Mt Everest this season and no greater casualty than a second-degree frostbite, it was a special moment of triumph for Group Captain Narendra Kumar Dahiya, the leader of the expedition who had also been a member of the 2005 climb as a wing commander.

Though the IAF summited the world’s highest peak for the first time in 2005 with three climbers reaching the 8,848m peak, the triumph was clouded by the death of Squadron Leader S.S. Chaitanya, who ran out of oxygen during the tortuous descent and was engulfed in a snow storm.

It was also a moment of jubilation for Flight Lieutenant Nivedita Chaudhary, the first IAF woman official and first member of the IAF Everest 2011 Expedition to reach the summit May 21.

The 27-year-old from Rajasthan, who is posted in Agra as a navigator, had put off her marriage to fellow IAF pilot, Flt. Lt. Shailendra Kumawat, as the Everest project meant undergoing rigorous training for two years, starting with five hours of exercises daily to winter climbing on the Siachen Glacier.

Besides Chaudhary, the other IAF Everest summiters are Corporal Raju Sindhu, Squadron Leader Nirupama Pandey, Flight Lt. Rajika Sharma, Squadron Leader Devidutta Panda, Lance Corporal Ganesh Singh Pokhriya, and Sergeant Jasbir Singh, 38.

Though the summiting was completed by May 25, the IAF triumph continued with Sindhu also winning the Everest half marathon, a gruelling 21 km run through high mountains, on May 29.

Nearly 15 people from different countries took part in the endurance run with the 26-year-old gangling Haryana lad, standing 6′4″, winning the first prize by completing the run in 2 hour 44minutes 15 seconds. The second place went to Sqn. Ldr. Gayathri Sekar from Tamil Nadu who clocked 3 hour 17 minutes.

“It was even better than reaching Everest,” said the beaming Sindhu. “It’s lonely on the Everest and climbers are busy clicking their own photos. But at the half-marathon, people were taking our photographs.”

The icing on the triumph was the report by a committee that wanted the expedition to be postponed to 2012, fearing the team was not fit enough.

The committee included Everest heroine Santosh Yadav, the first woman in the world to climb Mt Everest twice in less than 12 months.

However, Dahiya, who is also director of the IAF adventure division, pushed for it and was given a reluctant go-ahead with the warning that the team members should not take any risk.

“We did it because we believed we could,” said Wing Commander Bhavna Mehra, the most senior woman member of the expedition.

(Sudeshna Sarkar can be contacted at sudeshna.s@ians.in)

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