11 JANUARY 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary, the legendary mountaineer who became the first man to climb Everest along with Nepal's Tenzing Norgay, has died at the age of 88.

In his native New Zealand flags flew at half mast for the great 20th century adventurer, who suffered a heart attack after falling ill with pneumonia.

The explorer had been in poor health since visiting Nepal last April. Sherpas in the Himalayan kingdom held prayer ceremonies for the man they regarded as a second father, describing him as a great friend of the country, where he founded a charity to build hospitals and schools.

Sir Edmund scaled the world's highest peak in 1953, telling a pal on his return from the peak, "We finally knocked the bastard off". He went on to become the first man to stand at both the North and South Pole as well as on the summit of Everest.

New Zealand's prime minister Helen Clark hailed the mountaineer as a "heroic figure who not only 'knocked off' Everest, but lived a life of determination, humility and generosity". "He was a quintessential Kiwi," she added.

Photo: ©
The intrepid explorer passed away on Friday in his New Zealand homeland. The country's prime minister, Helen Clark, described him as a "heroic figure" and "quintessential Kiwi" Photo: © RexClick on photo to enlarge
Photo: ©
Sir Edmund became the first man known to have conquered the 29,035ft Himalayan peak when he reached the top with Nepal's Tenzing Norgay in May 1953Photo: © PA