New Zealand Organizes State Funeral For Mt. Everest Hero, Edmund Hillary བོད་སྐད།

Thousands of mourners gathered in Auckland for the funeral of New Zealand's national hero, Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mount Everest. The 88-year-old adventurer died earlier this month. From Sydney, Phil Mercer reports.

Nepalese Sherpas laid prayer scarves on Edmund Hillary's coffin as mourners across New Zealand said goodbye to the conqueror of Mount Everest.

The ice axe Hillary used in 1953 on his climb up Everest with guide Tenzing Norgay also lay atop the flag-draped casket.

The state funeral was held at a small church in Auckland, while thousands gathered to watch the service on a giant screen.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark says Hillary's resilience and enthusiasm were an inspiration.

"That attitude, Sir Ed's can-do pragmatism and his humility as the praise flowed for him over the decades endeared Sir Ed to our nation and made him an inspiration and a role model to generations of New Zealanders," she said.

Diplomats from many nations, including Australia, the United States, Britain and Nepal joined the mourners. Also at the service were the four surviving members of the original team of 14 who set out with Hillary to conquer Everest, the world's highest mountain.

Many climbers had died trying to reach the summit of Everest before Hillary and Norgay made it safely. Since then, hundreds more people have reached the top, although almost every year some climbers are injured or killed in the attempt.

After his achievement on Everest, Hillary dedicated his life to helping the people of Nepal building schools and hospitals. He also went on to explore the Arctic and Antarctic and lead other mountain expeditions.

He died earlier month after suffering a heart attack. He was 88. It was his last wish that his ashes be scattered at sea, perhaps to wash ashore and - in the words of the explorer - "to complete the cycle of my life."