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December 15, 1999

Into Thin Air: Deaths on Everest

Author Affiliations

Phil B.FontanarosaMD, Interim CoeditorIndividualAuthorMargaret A.WinkerMD, Deputy EditorIndividualAuthorStephenLurieMD PhD, Fishbein FellowIndividualAuthor

JAMA. 1999;282(23):2212. doi:10-1001/pubs.JAMA-ISSN-0098-7484-282-23-jbk1215

To the Editor: Dr Hawley's review of Jon Krakauer's book, Into Thin Air,1 makes a number of erroneous assumptions regarding the risks of climbing Mount Everest. His most important error is in calculating the mortality rate of climbing on Everest. He used figures for the number of times the summit had been reached (630) and the number of people who had died climbing on Everest (144) to conclude that climbing Everest has a mortality rate of 23%. He overlooked the thousands of people who have attempted to climb Everest unsuccessfully and returned alive. An accurate denominator for people who have made this attempt is not available. The closest figure available is the death rate for climbing on the major Himalayan peaks in Nepal, 2.9%.2 This is still a startlingly high figure but is an order of magnitude less than that mentioned in the review.

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