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 Will Mike Matthews ever rest in Peace ? A sad story gets sadder

This is an EverestNews.com Editorial.

Michael Matthews, age 22, of London, England, lost his life on May 13, 1999, while descending to Camp 4 from the summit of Mt. Everest.  Mike was wearing a red Northface Himalayan down suit. There as black trim on the shoulders and knees, and he would have been wearing a Russian oxygen system with perhaps a "UK" or American bottle (UK or American bottle is about twice as large as the orange Russian bottles) and was a grey-blue color.  His boots were black One-Sport boots with yellow trim.  His ice axe was a silver color and was made of metal.  We have reason to believe that Mike was approximately 200-300 meters above the balcony when he lost his life.

Mike's picture with what he was wearing that day is here. Mike was the youngest climber to ever reach the Summit of Everest from the UK. As you can see clearly, Babu's "stuff" is in the background. There is no doubt Mike reached the Summit.

The above is part of what we published per the requests of the family and expedition with the hope that other climbers would see Mike's body on Everest in later years. Despite the requests and investigations, Mike's body has never been found.

Mike's father, David Matthews, has threatened and considered taking legal action against the guiding company, OTT Expeditions, after the Everest Expedition. He has made his feelings pretty widely known. The movie about Mike's death is due to be played tonight on TV in the UK. It has been reported the family is now considering filing suit against four of the guides on the OTT expedition that year, one of which went home early on the expedition due to illness. The family and the family's lawyers have been in contact with EverestNews.com since the accident. The family seems to believe the guides let Mike down that day on Everest.

EverestNews.com released the News on May 15th 1999 with a statement from the OTT Expedition and the Matthews' family.

Daily News: 5/15/99 Report 12:35 PM EST

  • Everest Takes another life:

The following release has been made by the Matthews family and OTT Expeditions to EverestNews.com.

"Michael Matthews, aged 22, was lost presumed dead whilst descending from the summit of Mount Everest on the afternoon of 13th May 1999.

Although he never held it as an ambition he was the youngest Briton to reach the summit of Everest.

He was a keen mountaineer who had successfully climbed Mount Aconcagua in Argentina in January of this year and whose previous climbing experience included the Swiss Alps, the Pyrenees and Kilimanjaro in Kenya. He wanted to follow Everest with an attempt on Mount Vincent.

Michael was educated at Uppingham School. He worked as an equity options trader in the City of London.

He leaves behind his parents, David and Jane, his two brothers, James (23) and Spencer (10) and his married sister, Nina Mackie, all of whom are quite inconsolable over the loss of Michael Robert Matthews (4th March 1977- 13th May 1999.)

Michael had been climbing with OTT Expeditions. The family wish to thank members of the Team for their courage and determination shown on the descent in Atrocious weather conditions."

The Movie:

The movie's producers contacted EverestNews.com in July 2000, initially not telling EverestNews.com who they were or what they were doing. Later they told us they were interested in producing a film for "It's for a series based around extreme sports". Then finally they told us their purpose, after we became suspicious. The film company seemed very interested in any "bad" information about the climb or the climbers, but did not seem very interested in turn around times, the storm, or other information. The film company assured us, that they planned on producing an unbiased product. However they repeatedly told us, when we asked, that they had not interviewed some  independent climbers that summitted that day who we suggested they interview, nor the OTT guides. Frankly, that it concerning... Let's hope they got both sides of the story, and produced an unbiased product.

The film company stated to us, "We are not pre-judging OTT or any climbing company and we are not attempting to replicate the controversies surrounding 'Into Thin Air'. "

Maybe the Into Thin Air story is a good place to begin....

Forgive us Doug for using you as an example here...

Doug Hansen- Mike Matthews

Doug Hansen was part of a large commercial expedition. He was also the last of the climbers on his expedition to summit that day, and was "late" reaching the Summit.

Mike Matthews, was part of a large commercial expedition. He was also the last of the climbers on his expedition to summit that day, and was "late" reaching the Summit. While not as late in the day as Doug, Mike was the last climber to Summit Everest that day; He took a long time to go from the Hillary step to the Summit.

Both were clearly the slowest climbers on their expeditions that day. If either summits at 9:30 am or 10:00 am, odds would be that they have survived easily. They were late and somewhat slow on Summit day. Not necessarily bad climbers, but a very bad day for both. Sad...

Rob Hall- Mike Smith

It should also be noted Mike Smith was not the expedition leader like Rob Hall, but a guide on the expedition for what that matters.

Rob Hall stayed with his client and died. Mike Smith did not. Mike went ahead to break trail and waited for this client, when he did not show, he finally descended. Mike has stated the storm and deep snow prevented him from climbing back up the mountain. Mike Smith lost one toe and had frostbite.

Rob Hall has been criticized in his death for Doug's death.

Mike Smith has been criticized in his life for Mike Matthews' death.

Mike Smith had a similar choice as Rob Hall, he did the opposite. However, although Rob stayed, Hansen still died...

Most if not all Everest experts would agree, that if Mike Smith stays with Mike Matthews, we would have two dead climbers instead of one. 

Would Mike Matthews have died if Mike Smith would have stayed with him? Can Mike be criticized for leaving his client, Yes. Is it justified?? What option did he have except stay and die? This one, in our opinion, is for the Man upstairs to judge, not us.... 

If they would have turned around...

Reportedly Mike Matthews was at the Hillary step at around 11:00 am. Nick Fielding reported in the Sunday Times last year, "Matthews, who had earlier been advised by a Sherpa to turn back, had met one of the professional guides and said he was fine."

Sherpa have stated to climbers that Rob Hall advised Doug to turn around.

If they turn around, do they live ? Most would speculate, yes....

The oxygen...

We expect the film to speculate that the oxygen Mike Matthews was using that day could have caused his death. Where is the evidence? We never found any evidence that Mike's oxygen was not working during the climb. To our knowledge no one has ever suggested that his oxygen failed.

Does oxygen bottles/systems sometimes fail ? Yes. 

We expect it will be suggested that Mike's oxygen could have failed because it "could have been" recycled or a refilled bottle. Where is the evidence that recycled or refilled bottles of oxygen fail at a higher rates? We have looked into this matter, as climbers over the years have complained and sometimes blamed their failures to Summit on oxygen systems failing. We found new systems sometimes failed and recycled or refilled bottles sometimes failed. We saw no stats that would indicate that recycled or refilled bottles failed at a greater rate than new systems or bottles.

To blame Mike's Death on Himalayan Guides (Henry Todd) who supplied the oxygen to the OTT expedition appears very unfounded. In 1999, two other climbers died that spring.  Pascal from a fall and exhaustion after Summiting very late without the use of oxygen and Tadeusz Kudelski who is believed to have fallen. 100's of climbers has summitted Everest using this oxygen according to the climbers. No climber's death has ever been blamed on this oxygen to our knowledge. Himalayan Guides, has never lost a climber on Everest. Respected Commercial operator IMG uses an "American Oxygen System" where oxygen bottles are also refilled. 

Once again, no one, to our knowledge, has stated Mike had any problems with his oxygen system that day. To accuse Himalayan Guides (Henry Todd) of Mike's death would seem grossly unfair in our opinion.

The Storm...

1996: If the storm does not move in, clearly Doug and Rob might have survived the night as others have on Everest in recent years.

1999: If the storm does not move in, does Mike survive? We will never know for sure, but the speculation would be that he would have, probably even have made it down to camp 4 the same day.

Big storms have killed several on Everest.

If a big storm occurs while Reinhold Messner, the legendary climber most consider the best ever, was on the Summit in 1978, does Messner make it down? Does Habeler?

We seen Babu Chiri Sherpa, a man who was strong enough to spend the night on the Summit of Everest, die this year on Everest. Death on 8000 meter peaks is only a step away...

Does this analysis really help ?

Numerous reporters are writing articles on the movie and the death of Mike Matthews including the New York Times. Several has e-mailed EverestNews.com. We have held off on this analysis, as we see no real new information here. People die on Everest every year, as we say, "The question is not if, but who and how many ?"

Mike and Doug are dead.

This is an extremely high risk sport. We cannot think of a higher risk activity than climbing 8000 meter peaks.

It is sad...

Mike's death is sad, but so are the many others on Everest over the years. To climb Everest or any 8000 meter peak and think death is not a possibility for you is to be a fool. If Jerzy Kukuczka can die climbing so can you ! If you don't know who Jerzy Kukuczka is, you probably should not be on a 8000 meter peak! The list of truly great climbers to die on 8000 meter peaks from Kukuczka to Lowe, to Inurrategi to Harrison is long...

Did Mike and Doug know the risk ?

We don't know...

Should Commercial expeditions be allowed to bring climbers to 8000 meter peaks ?

We think most believe in a free world where there is freedom in the hills. Most climbers on Everest are NOT on "commercial expeditions". Most climbers who die on Everest are not on "commercial expeditions".

Should Commercial Guides be obligated to die with their clients?

For example Rob Hall? Mike Smith?

Should guides tackle clients if they go for the Summit late when they are told or suggested to turn around ? As laughable as that sounds, we have been told on one occasion that a commercial guiding leader told his guide to tackle a client if he did not turn around on Everest late in the day. That story is now denied by all involved, and all climbers lived.

A year after Mike's death we posted this in our news update

"On this day last year, Mike Matthews lost this life on Everest. May our thoughts and prayers be with his family and those climbers that were on the mountain that day for they will never be the same. 

For Mike, we know he is in a better place..."

Mike's family is devastated over their son's death. Mike Smith is devastated over Mike Matthews' death and the accusations against him from the family.

Are we being biased or wrong ?

You can judge. We don't like doing stories like this, but after the phone calls and e-mails we have received this week. We sense there is a need for some balance to this story.

In 2002, more men will die on Everest, the Question is not if, but who and how many will die? Experienced climbers, some considered great, will die climbing 8000 meter peaks along with some climbers considered clients. This is very high risk sport...

To lose a son...

We cannot think of anything worst in life. David Matthews, who we have spoken with on the phone for hours since Mike's death, is as mad as heck, and he has a right to be, but that won't bring Mike back...

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