The Mount Everest summit club is becoming less and less exclusive each climbing season, with the tally of mountaineers achieving the high-altitude feat officially surpassing 4,000 people in 2021.
One method of reaching the summit has yet to be reattempted, however. Total club membership tally = 1.
In 2005, Didier Delsalle became the one and only person to ever land a helicopter on the summit of the earth’s highest point, Mount Everest, at an altitude of 8,849 metres.
The respected French fighter pilot reportedly spent a significant amount of time trying to convince helicopter manufacturer Eurocopter that attempting the record would be a valuable PR investment. Understandably, he received quite a strong push back from the higher-ups regarding the inevitable bad press for the company should he crash the helicopter on the summit.
Regardless, Delsalle and his Eurocopter AS350 B3 Squirrel were eventually victorious in getting a green light for the mission which required a fierce weight-saving overhaul. Passenger seats were removed, and even Delsalle’s cockpit was taken off to avoid a build-up of ice on the glass.
On the morning of May 14th, 2005, Delsalle departed solo from Lukla Airport (9,350 feet) where he flew the helicopter nearly 20,000 vertical feet in search of the serious updraft he needed to lift the helicopter to the summit with virtually no power necessary.
There’s a reason helicopters on the summit of Everest aren’t a common occurrence. Hell, even in a situation of life or death, you’ll be lucky to find a pilot crazy enough to attempt a medevac off the mountain. At such altitudes above 25,000 feet, the air is so thin and unpredictable that it almost becomes impossible to generate any lift entirely.
Delsalle’s summit attempt thus required some expert navigation of the downwards and upwards drafts, and once arriving at the summit (29,030 feet), he was required to forcibly push the skis of the helicopter into the mountain to keep it there. On one face of the mountain there was a strong updraft, and the other a strong downdraft, making the summit a perilous place to be.
Be that as it may, Delsalle managed to keep it hovering on the small surface area of the summit beginning at 7:08AM local time for a total of 3 minutes and 50 seconds at an altitude that was 6,500 feet higher than the helicopter’s listed maximum altitude. Upon his departure, just a small pull back on the controls allowed for the strong updraft to whisk him off the top and gain significant momentum for his descent.
Amazingly, when he returned to Luka Airport, Delsalle found that all the cameras and flight data recorders that were meant to register his record attempt had failed to do so. Rather than wait for experts to recover the data, and in an effort to avoid any disbelievers in his achievement, Delsalle completed the flight to the summit of Everest again the following day to prove the point. Hollywood stuff.
No one has yet to mimic the Frenchman’s heroics from 2005, but the record for the highest altitude flight in a helicopter still belongs to fellow countryman Jean Boulet, who reached a height of 40,820 feet (12,442 m) in an Aérospatiale SA 315 Lama in 1972.
Check out the legendary clip of Delsalle’s absolutely bonkers accomplishment above, and then read about Marco Siffredi’s dramatic attempt to snowboard down from the summit of Mount Everest.