New Zealand bids farewell to Mount Everest conqueror Hillary

;AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) – Sherpas laid prayer scarves on the coffin of Edmund Hillary Tuesday as thousands across New Zealand bid farewell to the Mount Everest conqueror.

About 500 New Zealand and international dignitaries joined the Hillary family at a state funeral in St. Mary’s Anglican Church in this northern city, while thousands gathered at big screen venues in cities nationwide to pay respects to Hillary.

The enormously popular adventurer died of a heart attack on Jan. 11 at the age of 88.

“In reality he was a colossus, he was our hero, he brought fame to our country … but above all we loved Sir Ed for what he represented – a determination to succeed against the odds,” Prime Minister Helen Clark told mourners.

As the service began, five Sherpas, including one woman, laid traditional prayer scarves on the coffin for Hillary, who had spent more than 40 years working to aid Nepal’s development.

The ice ax used by Hillary on his May 29, 1953, conquest of Mt. Everest with mountain guide Tenzing Norgay also lay atop the flag-draped coffin.

One of the 20th century’s greatest adventurers, Hillary later made the first motorized overland trip to the South Pole, led a jet boat expedition from “sea to sky” up India’s Ganges River and joined an expedition to the North Pole.

The former beekeeper became a humanitarian, building schools, hospitals, health clinics and other facilities in Nepal to aid the Sherpa people of Nepal’s mountain region near Everest.

His son, mountaineer Peter Hillary, who has twice climbed Everest, said his father “was a real people’s hero” and that helping the Nepali people “really was the great calling of my father’s life.”