Andrew Irvine: The lost body on Everest
Andrew irvine

Andrew Irvine, known as “Sandy” to family and friends, was an engineering student from Merton College, Oxford, who disappeared on Everest with George Mallory in 1924. Several expeditions have been on a search mission to find his body that vanished on Mount Everest, over a hundred years ago in vain. His partner’s body, George Mallory was found 75 years later after their accident near the Yellow Band, before Camp 4 in 1999, but there was no trace of Andrew Irvine’s body, leading to conspiracies and speculations. There is a possibility Andrew Irvine and Mallory fell somewhere between the First Step and the lower exit of the gully that modern climbers use above Camp VI to get through the Yellow Band. In fact, Conrad Anker and the team thought they had stumbled upon Irvine’s body when they found Mallory. Now the question is, how did they identify it was Mallory and not Irvine’s body? Jake who was with Conrad Anker stumbled upon a tag from the manufacturer that caught all of their attention, causing us to lean in for a closer look. Directly below that label was a meticulously stitched one bearing the name “G. Mallory.” They all paused what they were doing and exchanged puzzled glances… but their initial words were something like ‘What reason would Andrew Irvine have for wearing George Mallory’s shirt?’ Then it dawned on them, they had not stumbled upon Irvine. They had not come across Wang Hong Bao’s “Old English Dead.” They were standing in the presence of George Leigh Mallory himself. Despite being just two months into his 23rd year when he went missing, his story has been overshadowed by that of Mallory, who was already a hero in the public’s eyes. However, Irvine’s fate is still shrouded in mystery, and 75 years after the two men were lost, people still wonder about the young man who was inextricably linked to Mallory. It is speculated that the two climbers took a fall on their descent from either the summit or somewhere near their peak, Even though Mallory’s body was discovered just below the Yellow Band on Everest, Irvine’s remains were never found, however, his climbing axe was discovered around 800 feet above Mallory’s body. Some researchers suggest that a rope may have connected Mallory and Irvine, as one was found wrapped around Mallory’s waist. This recent finding has sparked speculation about whether Mallory accidentally fell, pulling Irvine down with him, or if Irvine purposely released himself before the fall. The tragic demise of the two climbers has been attributed to a fatal fall. The mystery remains unsolved regarding whether George Mallory and Andrew Irvine were able to successfully reach the summit. Evidence suggests that Mallory may have been descending the mountain based on the position of his body. Reports mentioned that Mallory had a camera in his possession to document their achievement, but no trace of the camera had been unearthed. Experts from Kodak have stated that if the camera is ever recovered, there is a potential to develop the film inside. Despite multiple recent expeditions launched in search of the camera, all efforts have thus far been in vain. Let us now take an in-depth look into the life of Andrew Irvine, his personality, his contributions to the 1924 expedition, and the enduring mystery surrounding his disappearance.

Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, has been the subject of countless human achievements, tragedies, and mysteries. The 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition is one of the most famous events in mountaineering history due to the disappearance of celebrated climbers George Mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Comyn Irvine.

Who was Andrew Irvine, a.k.a Sandy?

Andrew Comyn Irvine popularly known by his nickname Sandy, was born on April 8, 1902, in Birkenhead, England, to a family with roots in Wales and Scotland. From a young age, Irvine demonstrated intellectual and athletic prowess. Although his father was a historian, Irvine went on to study engineering at Merton College, University of Oxford. At Oxford, he was a talented rower and a member of the university’s successful crew team. He also joined the mountaineering team, where he probably received his first exposure to technical climbing.

Andrew Irvine Face

He had notable relatives such as journalist Lyn Irvine, pioneering female surgeon Eleanor Davies Colley, and political activist Harriet Shaw Weaver. Irvine received his education at Birkenhead School and Shrewsbury School, where he showcased a natural knack for engineering, often coming up with improvised solutions for mechanical issues. During the First World War, he gained attention at the War Office for his designs, including a synchronisation gear for machine guns on aeroplanes and a gyroscopic stabiliser for aircraft. He was also known for his skill in rowing, achieving success at the 1919 ‘Peace Regatta’ at Henley with the Royal Shrewsbury School Boat Club. This led him to study engineering at Merton College, Oxford, where he was a member of the Oxford University Mountaineering Club and competed in the Oxford and Cambridge Boat Race. Irvine had a romantic relationship with Marjory Agnes Standish Summers, a chorus girl who was married to steel magnate Henry Hall Summers. Their affair led to marital issues for Marjory, as Henry initiated divorce proceedings while Irvine was on Everest.

The Merton College Arctic Expedition

Andrew Irvine participated in the Merton College Arctic Expedition to Spitsbergen, which exposed him to conditions similar to those on Mount Everest. His performance in the harsh environment of these northern latitudes caught the attention of expedition leader Noel Odell. By that time, Odell was already a renowned climber and would later play a significant role in the 1924 disappearance of Irvine and Mallory on Mount Everest.

Selection for the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition

Noel Odell first suggested Irvine as a candidate for the 1924 British Mount Everest Expedition. His recommendation resulted in Irvine’s selection as a member of the climbing team for the third British attempt at the world’s tallest peak. General Charles Bruce, another prominent member of the expedition, affectionately referred to Irvine as “our experiment,” for he had no prior experience in high-altitude mountain climbing. Ultimately, the team may have chosen Irvine for his knowledge and invention of an apparatus to deliver supplemental oxygen. Mallory and other leaders of the 1924 expedition had become convinced that supplemental oxygen was the key to the summit.

Andrew Irvine on an Everest Expedition with MalloryIrvine’s Contribution to the 1924 Expedition

Mallory himself seemed to trust the young student, stating that Irvine “could be relied on for anything except perhaps conversation.” During the expedition, Irvine made significant improvements to the oxygen sets, making them more functional, lightweight, and durable. He also took care of the expedition’s cameras, camp beds, stoves, and other equipment. He was well-liked and respected by his older colleagues for his intelligence, friendly nature, and tireless work ethic.

The Final Summit Attempt

In early June, the expedition made two unsuccessful attempts to reach the summit of Mount Everest. The team had one final opportunity before the summer monsoon season’s heavy snowfalls made it too dangerous to climb. The most experienced climber, George Mallory, was chosen for the last attempt, even though he considered himself too old for another attempt.

To the surprise of other team members, Mallory chose the inexperienced Andrew Irvine over the more experienced climber, Noel Odell, for the final push. Irvine’s expertise with the oxygen equipment was likely a major factor in Mallory’s decision, but there is an ongoing debate about the exact reasons for his choice.

Armed with Irvine’s custom oxygen apparatus, the team made swift progress up the ridge. Modern calculations estimate that they may have climbed as much as 850 feet/hour during this time. In the early afternoon of June 8th, teammate and support member Noel Odell spotted the pair climbing over either the first, second, or third step (exactly which of the three remains a mystery) and making fast progress toward the summit.

Noel Odell described the moment when he saw the climbers: “At 12.50, just after I had emerged from a state of jubilation at finding the first definite fossils on Everest, there was a sudden clearing of the atmosphere, and the entire summit ridge and final peak of Everest were unveiled. My eyes became fixed on one tiny black spot silhouetted on a small snow-crest beneath a rock step in the ridge; the black spot moved. Another black spot became apparent and moved up the snow to join the other on the crest. The first then approached the great rock step and shortly emerged at the top; the second did likewise. Then the whole fascinating vision vanished, enveloped in cloud once more.”

Unfortunately, this was the last sighting of Mallory and Irvine alive. Their bodies were not discovered until 1999, and the exact circumstances of their deaths remain a mystery.

Theories on Whether Mallory and Irvine Made It to the Summit

The biggest question surrounding Mallory and Irvine’s disappearance is whether they made it to the summit of Everest. The two men were last seen climbing toward the summit by their teammate Noel Odell, who was descending from his own attempt. Odell claimed that he saw the two men disappear into the clouds, and that he never saw them again. Many mountaineers have speculated on what happened to Mallory and Irvine, but the most convincing testimony comes from Conrad Anker, who led an expedition to recover the bodies of Mallory and Irvine in 1999.

Anker believes that it is possible, but unlikely, that either Mallory or Irvine reached the summit before their deaths. The climbing over the second step, which was later dubbed The Hillary Step, is notoriously difficult. Climbers say it goes free at about 5.9, which is the limit of Mallory’s climbing ability at sea level, without the extreme conditions and lack of oxygen on the summit pyramid of Everest. For the timetables to make sense, the men would have had to move at a very high speed to the summit and back down. Mallory was a strong climber, but Irvine had no high-altitude climbing experience and had relatively little technical rock climbing experience. No traces of the team were ever found on or near the summit.

The Flawed Discussion

John Mallory, George Mallory’s son, has stated that the whole discussion surrounding his father’s disappearance may be fundamentally flawed. He believes that the only way to achieve a summit is to come back alive, and that the job is only half done if you don’t make it back down. Mallory’s son’s perspective brings up a valid point that shouldn’t be overlooked. It is impossible to determine if they made it to the summit if they didn’t come back down to confirm it.

Possible Andrew Irvine Sightings

Over the years, there have been several reports of possible sightings of Andrew Irvine on Everest. In 1965, a member of the 1960 Chinese expedition, Wang Fu-chou, gave a speech at the USSR Geographical Society in Leningrad. During his talk, he made a shocking statement that his team had come across the body of a European person at an altitude of around 8,600 meters. When asked how he knew the person was European, he replied that the person was wearing braces. This could have been a reference to the suspenders that were part of Andrew Irvine’s climbing gear.

Xu Jing, the deputy leader of the 1960 Chinese expedition, mentioned that while he was descending from the First Step, he noticed a deceased climber lying face up with his feet pointing uphill. The body had lodged in a crevice or slot in the rock. Prior to 1960, no one besides Mallory and Irvine had gone missing on the north side of Everest. Mallory’s body was found at a lower altitude, making it highly likely that Xu had found Andrew Irvine. However, the sighting was brief and Xu was struggling during the descent. While he remembered seeing the body, he couldn’t recall its exact location.

The Discovery of the “Dead Englishman”

Japanese climber Ryoten Hasegawa had a conversation with a Chinese climber named Wang Hong-bao in 1979. Wang claimed to have found the body of a “dead Englishman” during the 1975 Chinese Everest Expedition. Wang described the body as lying on its side at the base of a rock, as if asleep. He identified the man as British based on his old-fashioned clothing, which was rotting and disintegrating when touched. Wang also pointed out an injury to the man’s cheek, indicating that he had suffered a fatal fall.

Wang’s story was tragic, but it also raised some intriguing questions. Who was the “dead Englishman,” and what was he doing on Everest? Could he have been one of the many climbers attempting to summit the mountain before Mallory and Irvine’s ill-fated expedition in 1924?

Discovery of the ice axe belonging to Irvine

In the year 1933, nearly a decade after Mallory and Irvine had gone missing, Percy Wyn-Harris, a member of the fourth British Everest Expedition, stumbled upon an ice axe at an altitude of around 8,460 meters (27,760 ft). The discovery took place roughly 20 meters (66 ft) below the ridge and about 230 meters (750 ft) before the First Step. The ice axe was lying on top of smooth brown ‘boiler-plate’ rock slabs, adorned with loose pebbles in certain areas. It bore the name of a Swiss manufacturer, matching those axes carried on the 1924 expedition. Since only Mallory and Irvine had reached that height via the ridge route, it was deduced that the ice axe must have belonged to one of them. Hugh Ruttledge, the leader of the 1933 expedition, speculated that the ice axe indicated a fall incident, during which it was either dropped accidentally or intentionally set down by its owner in order to free up both hands to hold the rope. On the other hand, Noel Odell, the last individual to see Mallory and Irvine during their 1924 ascent, provided a more optimistic interpretation. He suggested that the ice axe might have been left there during the climb, with the intention of retrieving it on the descent, as the forthcoming route was primarily rocky in the prevailing conditions. In 1963, a distinct triple nick mark on a military swagger stick found among Andrew Irvine’s belongings was found to match a similar mark on the ice axe’s shaft, implying that the axe likely belonged to Irvine. In an interview with PBS, Wyn Harris, the discoverer of the ice axe, clarified that there was no marking on the axe when he found it. The controversial cross mark was actually added by Wyn Harris’s personal Sherpa porter, Kusang Pugla, under Wyn Harris’s instructions to ensure that it was not lost or mistaken for other axes.

Discovery of the oxygen cylinder

In May 1991, an oxygen cylinder from 1924 was discovered at an elevation of approximately 8,480 meters (27,820 feet), located 20 meters (66 feet) higher and 60 meters (200 feet) closer to the First Step than the ice axe that was found in 1933. This important finding identified the minimum altitude that Mallory and Irvine must have reached during their final ascent on the northeast ridge in 1924. The oxygen cylinder was successfully retrieved in May 1999.

The Lost Camera and the 1975 Chinese Expedition

Mallory and Irvine carried a vintage Kodak camera on their fateful climb. Many enthusiasts have pointed to the “lost camera” as the answer to the greatest mystery in the history of mountaineering. According to reports, there is a possibility that a 1975 Chinese expedition found the camera and buried Andrew Irvine’s body under rocks.

The theory goes that the climbers returned to China with the camera, and one of two things happened. The first theory is that the images were successfully developed, revealing that Mallory and Irvine had, in fact, reached the summit. This would have disrupted the Chinese claim to the first ascent of Everest in 1960 by the North Col route. To avoid losing this coveted title, the Chinese government chose to cover up the evidence.

The second theory posits that the Chinese botched the development of the film and hid the evidence to avoid international embarrassment. In either case, the lost camera has become a symbol of the enduring mystery surrounding the fate of Mallory and Irvine.

Read more about the lost camera belonging to Mallory and Irvine

Theories and Speculations

The mystery surrounding the lost camera and the “dead Englishman” has led to countless theories and speculations. Some believe that Mallory and Irvine did, in fact, reach the summit and that the Chinese government covered up the evidence. Others suggest that the two climbers fell short of the summit and that the “dead Englishman” was another unfortunate soul who perished on the mountain.

There have been several attempts to locate the lost camera, including a 1999 expedition led by American climber Eric Simonson. Simonson used cutting-edge technology to search the mountain’s slopes, but the camera remains elusive.

Sighting of Irvine’s body by Wang Hong-bao

In 1979, during a Sino-Japanese reconnaissance expedition to the northern side of Mount Everest, Ryoten Hasegawa, the Japanese leader, had a conversation with a Chinese climber named Wang Hong-bao. Wang recounted his experience from the 1975 Chinese Everest Expedition, where he claimed to have come across the body of an “English dead” at 8,100 meters. The body was wearing old-fashioned clothing that was disintegrating, and Wang identified the man as British by poking his finger into his cheek to indicate an injury. Unfortunately, Wang was killed in an avalanche the following day before more details could be gathered. American Everest historian Tom Holzel later spoke to Zhang Junyan, Wang’s tent-mate from the 1975 expedition, who confirmed that Wang had talked about finding a foreign mountaineer at 8,100 meters. This led to speculation that the body could be either George Mallory or Andrew Irvine, as no other European climber was known to have died at that elevation on the north side of Everest. While Wang’s description of the body did not match Mallory’s actual condition, it was the clue that eventually led to the discovery of Mallory’s body 24 years later in the same area. The 2001 Mallory and Irvine Research Expedition located Wang’s 1975 campsite and thoroughly searched the surroundings, confirming that Mallory’s body was the only one in the vicinity.

Sighting of Irvine’s body by Xu Jing

In 2001, Eric Simonson and Jochen Hemmleb travelled to Beijing to speak with survivors of a historic 1960 Chinese Everest expedition. One survivor, Xu Jing, mentioned a chilling encounter during their descent from the First Step. Xu claimed to have spotted a dead climber lying on his back in a rocky hollow, with his feet pointing uphill. This discovery raised suspicions that the climber could have been Irvine, one of the ill-fated British climbers from the 1920s expedition. Unfortunately, Xu’s view was brief, as he was in a perilous situation himself and could not pinpoint the exact location where he saw the body.

Sighting by Wang Fu-chou

A more recent account has emerged, still vivid despite the passing of four decades. In 1965, Wang Fu-chou, a member of the 1960 Chinese expedition, delivered a lecture at the USSR Geographical Society headquarters in Leningrad. During his description of the expedition, he mentioned an intriguing discovery: “At around 8,600 meters above sea level, we came across the body of a European.” When questioned on how he could determine the nationality of the deceased, the Chinese climber responded with certainty, “He was wearing braces”.

The Mystery of Irvine’s Death

The mystery surrounding Irvine’s death has captivated mountaineers and historians for decades. Many theories have been put forward to explain what happened to him and Mallory on that fateful day.

One theory suggests that Irvine and Mallory successfully reached the summit but died on their descent due to exhaustion, hypothermia, or a fall. Another theory suggests that they fell to their death while attempting to climb the Second Step, a steep rock formation on the mountain.

In recent years, several expeditions have been organized to search for the remains of Irvine and Mallory. In 1999, an expedition led by Eric Simonson discovered Mallory’s body at an altitude of 8,155 meters. However, Irvine’s body has never been found, leaving the mystery of his death unresolved.

George mallory and Andrew “Sandy” Irvine Memorial Site Irvine’s Legacy

Despite the mystery surrounding his death, Irvine’s legacy has lived on in the world of mountaineering. He was a skilled climber and a pioneer in the use of new technologies in mountaineering. His determination and passion for adventure continue to inspire mountaineers and adventure enthusiasts around the world.

In 2019, a team of climbers attempted to find Irvine’s body on Mount Everest. Although they were unsuccessful in their search, their expedition brought renewed attention to Irvine’s legacy and the mystery surrounding his death.

The search for Andrew Irvine’s body continues

In 2010, a team known as the Andrew Irvine Search Committee, led by Holzel, conducted a search for Irvine using a compilation of aerial photographs taken in 1984 by Brad Washburn and the National Geographic Society. They spotted a potential object at around 8,425 meters (27,641 ft) near where Irvine’s ice-axe was found. This object appeared to be a body positioned in a rocky slot, with feet facing the summit, similar to what Xu had described. Another expedition led by Holzel was planned for December 2011 to explore the upper slopes of Everest in order to investigate this possible discovery further. The winter timing of the expedition was chosen in the hopes of finding Irvine and potentially recovering the camera that was presumed to be with him, due to less snow covering the upper slopes. In 2019, Mark Synnott and his team examined the crevice identified by Holzel as a potential location for Irvine, only to find out it was nothing more than an optical illusion. Synnott also raised the possibility that the 1975 Chinese expedition might have come across Irvine and the camera.

Search for Andrew Irvine's body


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