New Zealand's Sir Edmund Hillary, who along with Nepal's Tenzing Norgay Sherpa became the first to conquer Mount Everest, has died. He was 88.
"The legendary mountaineer, adventurer, and philanthropist is the best-known New Zealander ever to have lived. But most of all he was a quintessential Kiwi," New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark said on Friday in announcing Hillary's death.
Hillary scaled the world's highest mountain in 1953, telling companions after the climb: "We knocked the bastard off".
The cause of Hillary's death was not announced, but he had been ill for some time and local media reported he had been suffering pneumonia.
Hillary was New Zealand's best known son and his picture adorns the country's five dollar note. "He was a colossus. He was an heroic figure who not only knocked off Everest but lived a life of determination, humility, and generosity," said Clark.
After Everest, Hillary led a number of expeditions to the South Pole and the Himalayas, and devoted his time to helping Nepal's Sherpa people who live in the shadow of Everest.
His Himalaya Trust raised about US$250,000 a year and he personally helped build schools, hospitals, bridges, pipelines and even an airfield.
"The legacy of Sir Edmund Hillary will live on. His exploits continue to inspire new generations of New Zealanders, as they have for more than half a century already," said Clark.
"My thoughts are with Lady Hillary, Sir Edmund's children, wider family, and close friends at this sad time."