George Lowe dies

George Lowe has died at age 89, the last surviving climber from the team that made the first successful ascent of Mount Everest.

Mary Lowe said Thursday her husband died a day earlier at a nursing home in Ripley, central England, after an illness.

Lowe and his friend Edmund Hillary were the only New Zealanders on the 1953 British-led attempt to climb the world's highest peak.

Lowe was part of a small group that established the final camp 1,000 feet (300 meters) below the mountain's summit on May 28, 1953. The next day, Hillary and Tenzing Norgay of Nepal reached the 29,035 foot (8,850 meter) peak.

As Hillary descended the next day, he met Lowe, walking toward him with soup and emergency oxygen. "Well, George," Hillary recalled saying, "we knocked the bastard off."

"He and Hillary climbed together through life, really," said travel writer Jan Morris, who was part of the Everest expedition as a journalist for The Times newspaper.

"And when it came to the point near the summit, George had to play a subsidiary role. He climbed very high, he climbed to top camp and said goodbye to Hillary then helped him come down. He played a very important role."

New Zealand Prime Minister John Key said Lowe and Hillary made New Zealand a household name when they conquered Everest 60 years ago.

"I was sad to hear of his death but remain very proud of these men's achievements," Key said in a statement.

Almost 4,000 people have now successfully climbed Everest, according to the Nepal Mountaineering Association, but that 1953 expedition remains one of the iconic moments of 20th-century adventure.

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George Lowe dies