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Date: 2013-04-04


From open-cockpit biplanes to the sophisticated Jetstream aircraft, Nepal on Wednesday marked the 80th anniversary of the maiden flight over Mt Everest.

On April 3 in 1933, two Scots aviators—David Mclntyre and Douglas Douglas-Hamilton, who set out on a mission to film the area which had never been seen before—became the first humans to fly over Mt Everest. A documentary of their adventure named “Wings over Everest” won an Oscar in 1934.

An Everest view flight was hosted by Yeti Airlines on Wednesday morning with its Jetstream 41 aircraft, built by Prestwick, the same Scottish manufacturer established by the two pioneers, to commemorate the anniversary.  

“It was astounding to see the mountain and appreciate the sort of risks taken by the pilots in the pursuit of advancing science and aviation,” said Charles Douglas-Hamilton, the grandson of Douglas Douglas-Hamilton.


In 1933, aviation was still in its infancy. It had only been 30 years since the Wright Brothers made their first flight in 1903. Both the South Pole and the North Pole had been flown over by Admiral Byrd, an American pilot.

Britain had achieved the record for flying the greatest distance, at the fastest speed and to the highest altitude. On of the last great feats would be to fly over Mt Everest, the world’s highest point.

“It all started in 1932,” Charles told a press conference at the Nepal Tourism Board, after the Yet Airlines flight on Wednesday.

“John Buchan who was my maternal grandfather and who was a member of parliament for the Scottish Universities was discussing with my paternal grandfather how significant a flight over Everest would be for the prestige of British aviation.

“Buchan asked my grandfather if he would be the chief pilot of the flight over Everest and it was an opportunity my grandfather could not refuse,” said Charles. Douglas-Hamilton recruited David Mclntyre to pilot the second plane. The major reason to fly over Everest was to conduct a photographic survey of Everest and to film locations which had never been seen before.

Everest was 160 miles from Purnea in Bihar, India, where the aircraft base was set. The aircraft had a wooden propeller and would have a maximum speed of 140 miles per hour.

They enlisted the support of the director of meteorology in India so as to gauge wind levels by setting up balloon stations. This gave them a measure of wind speeds at different altitudes.

For two weeks, they then waited for ‘a weather window’ to fly over Everest. In April 3, 1933, they were given a green signal and took off from Purnea for Nepal’s highlands.

As they approached Everest, they were hit by a terrible down draught, which took the aircraft down to 2,000 ft. This made both the aircraft hurtle towards the east ridge of Everest. “As they approached the ridge from below it, they cleared it by a few feet,” Charles said.

“My grandfather’s plane surged over the summit and flew in to the plume with ice particles rattling off the aircraft,” he said. Shortly afterwards, the second plane flown by Mclntyre flew over the summit.

On landing back in Purnea in Bihar, the news of the maiden Everest flight was reported all over the world. The Central European Times wrote ‘The British flight over Mt Everest is a feat which will stand by itself in the history of aviation’.  However, the story did not end there. When the photographs of the flight were developed, they were not satisfactory due to the haze south of Everest. “The pilots decided to do a second flight but were not allowed due to posing dangers,” said Charles.

But disappointed that the photographs were not good enough, the pilots decided to carry out a second flight secretly. Fortunately, the photos from the second flight were good and covered all the areas the mission had intended. From a scientific perspective they had finally completed their mission too.

“Through correspondence between my father and Colonel John Hunt who led the successful 1954 Everest expedition, where Hillary and Tenzing reached the summit, it became clear that photographs taken aided Everest climbers in assessing how best to tackle what has become known as the Hillary Step,” added Charles.  

Two years after the 1933 flights, two pilots founded an airport in Prestwick, Scotland, and an aircraft factory too—Scottish Aviation (which later became BAE System).

This facility built the Pioneer, the Twin Pioneer and the Jetstream-41, which flew 29 Everest viewers, including this correspondent, on Wednesday.

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