January 7, 2006

Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer dies at 93

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer,
whose life was portrayed in his book and the film "Seven Years
in Tibet," died on Saturday aged 93, Austrian officials said in
a statement.

He was the first person to climb the difficult north face
of the Eiger in the Swiss Alps in 1938, but won world renown
after his book, the film version of which was directed by
Jean-Jacques Annaud and starred Brad Pitt.

Harrer was interned in northern India by British
authorities in 1939 during an expedition in the Himalayas but
escaped in 1944 and fled over the mountain range to Tibet.

He struck up a close friendship with the Dalai Lama when
staying at the Tibetan capital of Lhasa from 1946 to 1951,
before China annexed the country.

Following media reports, Harrer admitted in the 1990s he
had been a member of the Nazi party.

Harrer was admitted to hospital two days ago in Friesach in
southern Austria. There were no details of the cause of death.

British independent researcher Roger Croston, who has
written about Tibet and knew Harrer personally, said the
Austrian mountaineer spent much of his life supporting the
cause of the Tibetan people.

"Harrer was perhaps the most famous mountaineer of his
generation and his climb of the north face of the Eiger in 1938
along with Ludwig Vorg, Andreas Heckmair and Fritz Kasparek
ranks as one of, if not the greatest mountaineering feat of the
time," he told Reuters.