The High-Flying Yeti of Dhampus Pass
By Don Messerschmidt, ECS Nepal magazine (Kathmandu), July 2013
A flying Yeti? What’s next!
In 1960, a Swiss mountaineering expedition flew to Nepal to climb Dhaulagiri peak with the help of a Yeti, the abominable snowman of the Himalayas. But this particular Yeti was unusual¾it had wings. In the process they bagged the first ascent of the world’s 7th highest peak.

In the 14 years between 1950 and 1964 all 14 of the world’s 8,000 meter peaks (26,246 ft+) were climbed. The first was Annapurna (8,019 m., 10th highest) by a French team in 1950, followed by Everest (8,850 m.) in 1953 by the British. By 1964 the other 12 were conquered. All are in Asia, in the Himalayas (Nepal, India and Tibet) and Hindu Kush (Pakistan/China).
< Pilatus Porter on Dhampus PassPhoto credit: Max Eiselin 1960
The 7th highest among them is Nepal’s Dhaulagiri, the ‘White Mountain’, which rises 8,167 meters (26,795 ft) into the sky and is considered one of the most difficult to climb. It is especially renowned for wild storms and killer avalanches. It was attempted eight times before the Swiss topped out on it.
The 1960 Swiss Dhaulagiri Expedition was doubly notable. Not only did Swiss mountaineers reach the summit (on May 13), but they used a Pilatus P-6 Porter STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft, nicknamed ‘Yeti’, to help them. In his book The Ascent of Dhaulagiri (1961), the expedition leader Max Eiselin describes the climb and how his team used the history-making STOL (Short Take-Off and Landing) plane.
Everything about the Yeti was New
The first P-6 was manufactured in Switzerland only a year earlier, in 1959. And although Pilatus aircraft were well known in the Alps, none had ever been used on Himalayan expeditions. The Pilatus was named after a minor peak in the central Alps, based on a legend that the body of Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who presided over the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, lay somewhere on the mountain.
The Swiss had high expectations for their Yeti. In his book, Max Eiselin explains how the aircraft was used to transport stores and equipment directly to the high camps. By flying the supplies in, they radically altered the usual practice of hiring porters to carry heavy loads up to base camp. During the expedition, the Yeti landed many times on Dhampus Pass (‘Dambush’ in Eiselin’s book) at an elevation of 5,200 meters (17,060 ft). Those supply flights were undertaken with “the greatest margin of safety”, Eiselin writes:
“We intended to do without porters and transport everything needed for the acclimatization camp on the Dambush Pass by means of the Yeti, the rest of the stores being dumped on the NE Col as soon as possible. As this was an experiment which had never been attempted before in the Himalayas - the world height record up to that time being 4,200 m. - we intended to be careful and... [were] determined only to fly in really good weather, and certainly not in strong winds... In order to be on the safe side we also worked out an approach march on foot just in case the machine failed us at the last minute. It was much too risky to base everything on an untried method of approach when the prize was a still unclimbed 8,000-m. peak.”
World Record Landing
The Yeti’s history-making flights began on March 28, when Max Eiselin and two pilots, Ernst Saxer and Emil Wick, flew for the first time to Dambush. After taking off from an airfield in the Nepal lowlands, Eiselin looked down and remembered the long approach march while trekking in during an earlier expedition―“the exhausting passes, the slow advance from one valley to another over ridges and through gorges, the blistering sun, the dust and the thirst.
Flying now, high above the wild Kali Gandaki river near Tukucha (Tukché village), “Ernst turned off to the left and put on his oxygen mask. The landing required meticulous concentration. We saw the Dambush Pass below us and crossed over it to ‘Hidden Valley’ beyond. We were pleasantly surprised to find that there was no wind...
After a high sweeping turn, Wick wound down the flaps and the plane “touched down on the snow-fields of the Dambush Pass as lightly as a feather. We were overjoyed to find that the Pass made an ideal landing-ground. The problem of the approach march was solved...
They unloaded supplies and established a camp for later use. Then, with a wind-sock in place, “the highest airfield in the world was open for business... The altimeter stood at 5,200 m. and the thermometer at -12° C. The snow was nice and hard and the runway sloped gradually towards the Kali Gandaki valley without any obstructions. It could not have been better.
During take-off, the Yeti rushed full speed down slope “like a skier taking off at the top of a ski jump. Then Ernst pulled back a little on the stick and the Yeti straightened up and glided softly out into the air...” Almost as a second thought, Eiselin added that the “landing on Dambush Pass was not only the first snow landing in the Himalayas, but constituted a world’s height record into the bargain.
A few days later they landed even higher, at 5,750 m (18,865 ft) on Dhaulagiri’s NE Col. To this day, the Pilatus P-6 Yeti holds the world record for highest landing by a fixed wing single-engine aircraft, up there on Dhaulagiri glacier.
The Demise of ‘Yeti’
Supply flights to Dambush Pass and the NE Col continued uneventfully until  May. In the course of 16 flights Saxer and Wick transported many supplies and several expedition members to the mountain. What took them eight to 12  minutes flight time from Pokhara in the Nepal midhills, took others, on foot, four days or more to accomplish on mountain trails.
Then, eight days before the summit assault, the P-6 flights came to an sudden end. Yeti landed at Dambush that morning as usual, but never came back. Something went wrong and, unable to contact the crew, Eiselin worried about their safety. He had no idea what had happened.
That day, May 5th, was a “black day” for the expedition and the blackest day of his flying career, the pilot, Ernst Saxer, wrote in his diary. The morning weather was perfect and the landing was flawless, but at take-off something went terribly wrong.
“Emil shook the plane by the struts in order to loosen the skis in the snow, [and] I then gave full throttle and we slid along the old track. We were airborne in barely fifty yards, as fine a take-off as one could wish for. I pulled back the control column hard against me. The blue glaciers of the Tibetan frontier mountains glittered in the distance.
“But what was that! My hand suddenly shot up in the air and hit the roof. To my consternation I realized that I was firmly grasping the rubber grip of the column in both hands. The column, without my guiding hand on it, shot forwards and before I had grasped the situation, there was a sudden crashing and splintering on all sides. Snow was whirling about and completely obstructed our view...”
Yeti nose-dived, cascading out of control down the slope. After a hard jolt, the plane spun around and stopped. Then, total silence.
Upon exiting the cockpit, the pilots saw a “spectacle of utter ruin.” The ailerons were torn off. The left wing was badly bent. The tail and undercarriage were smashed. The propeller was twisted out of shape. And the engine was ruined. Yeti would never fly again.
The pilots picked up gear scattered across the crash site and wondered how they would survive the night at that altitude. Saxer was unhurt, but Wick suffered a gash on his head, and had altitude sickness with a severe headache. They found food (mostly Toblerone chocolate bars) and a few warm clothes in an empty tent, but without sleeping bags they spent a miserably cold night.
The following morning Saxer set out to get help from the closest camp, many hours walk south on French Pass. He turned back when he realized it was too far to go in the snow without proper footgear and cold weather clothing. After two more nights alone at Dambush, he and Wick realized that they had to walk out to safety. Early Sunday morning, May 8th, they left for Tukché, the nearest village, many miles east and steeply down 2610 meters (8,563 ft) in the river valley. Shortly after leaving the pass a search plane flew over and spotted them. They felt a little better knowing that others on the expedition saw that they were alive; but the search plane couldn’t land there. Twelve hours later Saxer and Wick reach Tukché, totally exhausted and hurting from the steep descent. From there, they walked another four days out to Pokhara.
Before leaving Dambush, Saxer had left a note where it would be found by whoever came looking for them. He knew that the expedition was near its end and that they wouldn’t meet other team members before the final assault on the summit. The note reached Max Eiselin days later when a Sherpa brought it back from the pass. It read, in part―
“Dambush, 7 May
Dear Comrades,
10.15 a.m., 5 May. Yeti crashed after take-off. Rubber grip of control column broke off. Emil and I uninjured. Staying here until morning of 8 May... Emil is in bad shape. Going down to Tukucha tomorrow, as short of fuel and food. Hope to be in Pokhara on 12/5...
Yeti lies 300 m. in direction of Hidden Valley, some equipment still lying about...
With best wishes for the success of the expedition,
Ernst and Emil.”

The ‘Yeti’ Today
It’s been over half a century since the Yeti crashed. Trekkers crossing Dambush (Dhampus) Pass on the popular Dhaulagiri Trail now find very little wreckage―a few remaining pieces of the dead Yeti. Yak herders and others have stripped it clean of any useful parts and for souvenirs.
In the early 2000s, some Swiss airplane aficionados considered going to Nepal to bring the remains of the pioneering Pilatus P-6 ‘Yeti’ back home to Switzerland. But they gave up when they realized that there was not much left to recover and how difficult and costly such an ambitious adventure would be.
The Pilatus P-6 Porter named Yeti is dead. Long live the Yeti! □

Immediately after the crash. Photo by Ernst Saxer, 1960

Don and ‘Amjo’ looking down on the crash, summer of 1964. Photo: Regon Unsoeld.

The crash site in 1964. Photos © by Don Messerschmidt

For more photos of the Yeti before and after the crash see: Pilatus Porter History by Markus Herzig, s/n337’ online at http://www.pc-6.com/history/337.htm.
The air crash report is online at: https://aviation-safety.net/wikibase/wiki.php?id=28757


The 14 Highest Peaks - the ‘Eight-Thousanders’ (over 8000 meters / 26,246 feet)
Date Summitted
May 29, 1953
K2 (Godwin-Austin)
July 31, 1954
May 25. 1956
May 18, 1956
May 15, 1955
Cho Oyu
October 19, 1954
May 13, 1960
May 9, 1956
Nanga Parbat
July 3, 1953
June 3, 1950
July 4, 1958
Broad Peak
June 9, 1957
July 7, 1956
Shisha Pangma
May 2, 1964


Converting Caffeine Into Books

Nationalist, but not Hindu Anthropology in India! -- by Abhijit Guha, Anthropology, Vidyasagar University, Midnapore, West Bengal, India

First published in The Statesman (New Delhi) on 02/24/2018. Republished 03/04/2018 at LinkedIn. com

There is a standard and long-standing critique of Indian Anthropology advanced by some notable anthropologists, which held that Indian Anthropology is the product of a colonial tradition and the anthropologists in India for various reasons followed their colonial masters in one way or the other. As early as 1971 the eminent Indian anthropologist Surajit Sinha, (who was a Vice-Chancellor of Viswa Bharati University) in his insightful article published in the Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society observed that despite considerable growth in research publications and professional human power in social and cultural anthropology during the last 100 years, the Indian anthropologists largely remained dependent on western and colonial traditions. Taking note of his earlier article in the JIAS, Sinha in his ‘Foreword’ of the precious book Bibliographies of Eminent Indian Anthropologists (1974) written by Shyamal Kumar Ray, made a remark as follows:
…. there was a general reluctance among Indian scholars to take due note of the research publications of Indian pioneers and contemporaries. As a result, research endeavours of Indian scholars tend to be derivative, leaving the responsibilities of breaking new grounds exclusively to western scholars.
Next to Sinha came the critique of Amitabha Basu and Suhas Biswas in the 1980s who held professorial positions at the prestigious Indian Statistical Institute at Kolkata. In their article, ‘Is Indian Anthropology Dead/Dying’ published in the Journal of the Indian Anthropological Society, they raised the question of social relevance of Indian anthropology squarely and concluded that the subject was either ‘dead’ or ‘dying’ in the post-colonial period.
Celebrated Social Anthropologist and Sociologist André Béteille in one of his articles published in the Sociological Bulletin in 1997 wrote:
In India, each generation of sociologists seems eager to start its work on a clean slate, with little or no attention to the work done before. This amnesia about the work of their predecessors is no less distinctive of Indian sociologists than their failure to innovate.
On the reverse side of the critiques there also existed a view that an Indian form of Anthropology could be discerned in many ancient Indian texts and scriptures before the advent of a colonial anthropology introduced by the European scholars, administrators and missionaries in the Indian subcontinent. As early as 1938 Jogendra Chandra Ghosh in his interesting article Hindu Anthropology published in the Anthropological Papers (New series) no. 5 of the University of Calcutta tried to show that before 6th Century B. C. the Hindus innovated various measurements on human body and its parts, which in European terms may be called Anthropometry, an important branch of Physical Anthropology. Mr Ghosh pointed out that the earliest record of those anthropometric measurements was found in Susruta-Samhita, a medical treatise written by the ancient Hindus. Ghosh also held that the ancient Hindus had their own notion of Ethnology and its first expression was found in Rgveda in which ‘races’ were classified on the basis of their skin colour. Suffice it to say that Ghosh was hinting at the fact that ‘racial theory’ became a major theme in later day western anthropology. Another later proponent of Hindu Anthropology was the famous anthropologist Nirmal Kumar Bose who was a onetime secretary of Mahatma Gandhi. Bose in his earliest textbook entitled Cultural Anthropology published in 1929 made a novel attempt to show that the ancient Hindus in their scriptures classified the desires or needs of human beings into artha (economic), kama (sexual) and moksha (spiritual) almost in the fashion of later day functional anthropologists of the west. Bose probably held that the Hindus like the western anthropologists had their own scheme of understanding human nature and behavior which existed since long.
Under the above scenario, I will argue that both the colonial critique of Indian Anthropology (Sinha, Basu and Béteille) and the proponents of Hindu Anthropology (Ghosh and Bose) ignored the materialistic, socially committed, secular and nationalist trends of Indian Anthropology which was growing in the hands of some remarkable anthropologists before and after Independence of the country. The critics have only followed the fashionable way to criticize the pioneers instead of studying the socially committed works of the later and that in my view was one of the reasons that we failed to honour our predecessors and depended more on the wisdom of the western scholars rightly pointed out by the critics. But the critics have only paid lip-service to those nationalist pioneers of the discipline.
These anthropologists learned the methodology of the discipline from the west but did not become blind followers of Europe and America and they also did not want to derive their anthropology from the religious scriptures of the ancient Hindus. Instead, they tried to apply anthropology in nation building, a task which ironically was finally nipped in the bud by their own successors!
I would now make a list of some of the outstanding scholars of the early Indian Anthropology who though worked during the colonial period tried to build up a nationalist tradition of anthropology. All of the following anthropologists were born in India in the 19th century and applied their knowledge in Anthropology and Sociology for the cause of the marginalized and exploited tribals and other underprivileged and deprived sections of the Indian population. Although, these anthropologists were influenced by the theory and methodology of the western anthropologists but they used the western knowledge for the cause of the exploited tribals and marginalized communities of India. Here is the list.
Sarat Chandra Roy (1871–1942) is regarded as the father of Indian Anthropology who was a practicing lawyer at Ranchi and began to do research on the society and culture of the tribes of the region not out of ethnological curiosity, administrative need or evangelical mission like the Europeans, but driven by his humanitarian passion to deliver justice to the exploited tribals. He was deeply moved by the plight of the Munda Oraon and other tribal groups, who were subjected to the continued oppression by an apathetic colonial administration and by a general contempt towards them in courts of law, as “upper-caste” Hindu lawyers had little knowledge of their customs, religions, customary laws and languages. His keen interest and sympathy of the oppressed tribals inspired him to study their culture and Roy always stood for their cause. His house at Ranchi had a set of rooms prepared for his tribal clients so that those who came from far-off villages could stay on while his case was being fought in court.
Bhupendranath Datta (1880 – 1961) who was the younger brother of the famous Hindu revivalist social reformer Swami Vivekananda. joined the anti-British struggle and sent to prison by the colonial government in India, and later he earned an M. A. in Sociology from Brown University, USA and a Ph. D. degree from the University of Hamburg in 1923. His books Dialectics of Hindu Ritualism (1950) and Studies in Indian Social Polity (1963) although published much later, can be regarded as pioneering works on Indian society and culture from a Marxist perspective. (See https://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Bhupendranath_Datta). Datta presented his research paper on the political condition of colonial India to V. I. Lenin. Lenin gave a reply to Bhupedranath and requested him to collect data on the peasant organizations in India, which was very much appreciated by Datta. His contributions have not yet been included in the curriculum in Indian Anthropology nor the critics of Indian Anthropology mentioned Datta’s name in their critiques of the subject.
Panchanan Mitra 1892 –1936 was the first professor of anthropology in India. He was among the first Indians to study at Yale University and conducted several anthropological expeditions in India and abroad. He was the head of the Department of Anthropology of the University of Calcutta and is most known for his pioneering book Prehistoric India as early as 1923. This book which was the first of its kind by any Indian scholar showed the antiquity, richness and diversity of the culture of humankind long before the advent of scripts. He is still the lone Indian anthropologist who wrote a book on the history of American Anthropology in 1930.
Biraja Sankar Guha (1894-1961) was the founder of the Anthropological Survey of India and was known to the students of Anthropology as a Physical Anthropologist who made a classification of the Indian population on the basis of their Physical features. Very few people know that he first undertook a thoroughgoing field survey on the Social tensions among the refugees of the then East Pakistan for suggesting the government about how to understand their problem and improve their living conditions.
K. P. Chattopadhyay, (1897-1963) was not only the Head of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Calcutta but was also a life-long fighter for civil liberties movement in West Bengal before and after the Independence of India. His researches on the jute mill workers and the workers of the then Calcutta Corporation were pioneering in anthropology which broke away from the colonial anthropological tradition.
Tarak Chandra Das (1898-1964) made a marvelous empirical study, still unparallel in global and Indian Anthropology on the devastations caused by the Bengal famine of1943 during the colonial period. Das was such a courageous academic that he in his Presidential address of the Anthropology section of the Indian Science Congress in 1941 criticized the colonial government and the Christian missionaries for doing a lot of harm to the tribals of north east India. He had a vision for the application of Anthropology for human welfare but that was forgotten by the Indian anthropologists. The critics of Indian Anthropology also did not care to look at the socially relevant and responsible studies of T. C. Das.
My list is not exhaustive. It only highlighted the missing strips of research in the history of Indian Anthropology, which has not yet become a tradition in the pedagogy of the study of humankind in India.