Explore Himalaya had an opportunity to meet up with Andy Elson, renowned scientist and a crew member of the Everest Skydive team on 2nd Oct 2008. Before he left for England, Andy talked at length about the Everest skydive and his part in the project.
Andy is a cosmonaut, aeronaut and life support systems specialist. He is also the first balloonist to fly over Mt.Everest.
EH: What do you think about the Everest Skydive project? How does it help Nepal?
AE: The Everest skydive is very exciting and because it brings all sorts of different people together to have another adventure in Nepal, it brings a lot of publicity to Nepal . Hopefully the introduce lots more and people to Nepal.
The skydivers will be parachuting from 29,500ft probably the height of Everest about seven or ten miles away from Everest, landing at Shyangboche and it’s not just for experienced skydivers. You and I can go and do it. It’s possible to make a tandem jump where there’s an instructor and you get strapped onto the front of the instructor and you get down together under one big parachute. That makes it possible for anybody to do it and possibly even people with some sort of disabilities can do it. So it’s really exciting. It’s bringing Everest and the view of the top of Everest to people.
I think the skydiving really focuses world attention on Nepal. China has just had the Olympic Games and that was a great success and everybody is concentrating on sports now. And this is uniting people whose sport is skydiving from all over the world. We have got people from New Zealand, South America, North America, France, Germany, Belgium, Pakistan and UAE. I believe its really uniting people from all over the world and they are going to take the message back to their country that Nepal is a fantastic place .Of course they wouldn’t have come here if it wasn’t for the skydiving. So you know I think it helps to make Nepal an up and coming place (which it is) and make the world aware of it. Nepal is one of my favorite places and I have been here many times. It is a delight being here and trying to make this project a success.’
EH: What were your responsibilities as part of the Everest Skydive team?
AE: ‘My job on the project has involved advising on the altitude, how the people can stay safe. That’s part of the reason why they got quite an extensive trekking program where there’s not people arriving in Kathmandu, flying up to Lukla and then rushing off to do the skydive. They are going for a ten day trek to acclimatize first to altitude and then once they come back from the trek to Shyangboche, which is a drop zone, they get taken at 29,500ft in the aeroplane where they would be on oxygen all the way up and then just before they jump they disconnect from the aeroplane oxygen supply and connect to a bottle which they have got onto their parachute harness. So they are on oxygen all the way back down to the drop zone again at 12,300 ft.
My job is to write the specification for all the equipments and to do the initial test for the equipment. I have done my part of job there and I am going back to England, to start hopefully, doing the preparation for next year’s skydive. But I have trained a small team of people to work with the oxygen equipment and they are all there in Shyangboche. It all seems to be going on well so far.
I thoroughly enjoyed working with the rest of the team to make it happen or to help to make it make it happen and I hope it will be very successful and everybody enjoys it and benefits from it. I am very proud to have been able to help with it.’
EH: Did you find it challenging to work on this project?
AE: ‘I think the project of this nature is always a challenge. Getting everything together at the right time, getting the weather forecasting right and getting all the people in the right places is a challenge .But its great fun just bringing people to Nepal and seeing the look on their faces, especially while they are trudging up Namche Hill (which is quite difficult), and they get to that point in the hill where they see Everest through the trees and they smile, and forget how tired they are. It’s great to see the smiles lighting up their tired faces! ‘
EH: What are you involved in, at present?
AE: ‘In Europe I am designing a new heating parasystem, which is carbon neutral. And as an engineer, I am trying to help the planet a little bit by working on to reduce the emissions that people produce by using electricity. It is a private project and I am working with my small team.’