1996 Mount Everest disaster

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The 1996 Mount Everest disaster refers to the events of 10–11 May 1996, when eight people were caught in a blizzard and died on Mount Everest during summit attempts. Over the entire season, 12 people died trying to reach the summit, making this the deadliest day and the deadliest year on Mount Everest until the 16 fatalities of the 2014 Mount Everest avalanche and the 18[1] deaths resulting from avalanches caused by the April 2015 Nepal earthquake. The 1996 disaster gained wide publicity and raised questions about the commercialization of Everest.

Numerous climbers, including multiple large teams as well as some small partnerships, and even some soloists, were high on Everest during the storm. While climbers died on both the North Face and South Col approaches, the events on the South Face are better known. Journalist Jon Krakauer, on assignment from Outside magazine, was in a party led by guide Rob Hall that lost four climbers on the south side; he afterwards published the bestseller Into Thin Air (1997),[2] which related his experience. Anatoli Boukreev, whose party lost a guide, but no clients, felt impugned by Krakauer's book and co-authored a rebuttal book called The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest (1997).[3] Beck Weathers, of Hall's expedition, and Lene Gammelgaard, of Boukreev's expedition, wrote about their experiences of the disaster in their respective books, Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest (2000)[4] and Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy (2000).[5] In 2014, Lou Kasischke, also of Hall's expedition, published his own account of the tragedy in After the Wind: 1996 Everest Tragedy, One Survivor's Story (2014). Mike Trueman, who coordinated the rescue from Base Camp, has added to the story with The Storms: Adventure and Tragedy on Everest (May 2015).[6]

British filmmaker and writer Matt Dickinson's book, The Death Zone[7] (later republished as The Other Side of Everest[8]), is a first-hand account of the storm's impact on climbers on the mountain's other side, the North Ridge, where three climbers in a group from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police also died.

South Col route events[edit]


The following is a list of climbers en route to the summit on 10 May 1996 via the South Col and Southeast Ridge, organized by expedition and role.

Adventure Consultants[edit]

The Adventure Consultants' 1996 Everest expedition, led by Rob Hall, consisted of these individuals.

  • Frank Fischbeck (53)a – attempted Everest three times, reached the South Summit in '94
  • Doug Hansen (46) – attempted Everest with Hall's team in '95 (died on the South Summit)
  • Stuart Hutchison (34) – youngest client on Hall's team, previous 8000 m experiences include K2 winter expedition 1988, Broad Peak west ridge 1992, and Everest north side 1994
  • Lou Kasischke (53) – had climbed six of the Seven Summits
  • Jon Krakauer (41) – journalist on assignment from Outside magazine; accomplished technical climber but no 8,000 m experience
  • Yasuko Namba (47) – had climbed six of the Seven Summits; was attempting to become oldest woman to summit Everest (died on the South Col)
  • John Taske (56) – oldest climber on the Adventure Consultants team; no 8,000 m experience
  • Beck Weathers (49) – had been climbing for 10 years; he was also making a bid for the Seven Summits, no 8,000 m experience
a.^ All ages are as of 1996.
  • Sirdar Ang Dorje Sherpa (29)
  • Arita Sherpa
  • Chuldum Sherpa
  • Kami Sherpa
  • Lhakpa Chhiri Sherpa
  • Ngawang Norbu Sherpa
  • Tenzing Sherpa
b.^ The sherpas listed here were the climbing sherpas hired by Rob Hall's Adventure Consultants.[9] There were many other sherpas working at lower elevations, who performed duties vital to the Adventure Consultants and Mountain Madness expeditions. Most climbing sherpas' duties require them to ascend at least as high as Camp III or IV, but not all of them summit. The expedition leaders intend for only a select few of their climbing sherpas to summit.

None of the clients on Hall's team had ever summitted an 8,000 m peak, and only Fischbeck, Hansen, and Hutchison had previous high-altitude Himalayan experience.

Hall had brokered a deal with Outside magazine for advertising space in exchange for a story about the growing popularity of commercial expeditions to Everest. Krakauer was originally slated to climb with Scott Fischer's Mountain Madness team, but Hall landed him, at least in part, by agreeing to reduce Outside‍ '​s fee for Krakauer's spot on the expedition to "less than cost". As a result, Hall was paying out-of-pocket to have Krakauer on his team.[10]

Mountain Madness[edit]

Scott Fischer was the lead climbing guide for the Mountain Madness expedition. The team included eight clients.

a.^ All ages are as of 1996.
  • Sirdar Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa (23)
  • "Big" Pemba Sherpa
  • Ngawang Dorje Sherpa
  • Ngawang Sya Kya Sherpa
  • Ngawang Tendi Sherpa
  • Ngawang Topche Sherpa (died a few months later from HAPE he contracted during hauling duties to Camp II)
  • Tashi Tshering Sherpa
  • Tendi Sherpa
c.^ The sherpas listed here were the climbing sherpas hired by Scott Fischer's Mountain Madness expedition.[9] Ngawang Topche was hospitalized in April; he had developed HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) while ferrying supplies above Base Camp. He was not on the mountain during the summit attempt of 10 May. Topche died from his illness that June.[citation needed]

Pete Schoening had decided, while still at Base Camp (5,380 m/17,700 ft), not to make the final push to the summit. The team began the assault on the summit on 6 May, bypassing Camp I (5,944 m/19,500 ft) and stopping at Camp II (6,500 m/21,300 ft) for two nights. However, Kruse suffered from altitude sickness and possible HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema), and stopped at Camp I. Fischer descended from Camp II and escorted Kruse back to Base Camp for treatment.[citation needed]

Taiwanese expedition[edit]

"Makalu" Gau Ming-Ho led a 13-member team to Everest and was climbing with Kami Dorje Sherpa (sirdar), Ngima Gombu Sherpa, and Mingma Tshering Sherpa that day.

The previous day (9 May), Taiwanese team member Chen Yu-Nan had died following a fall on the Lhotse Face.

Delays reaching the summit[edit]

Shortly after midnight on 10 May 1996, the Adventure Consultants expedition began a summit attempt from Camp IV, atop the South Col (7,900 m/25,900 ft). They were joined by six client climbers, three guides, and sherpas from Scott Fischer's Mountain Madness company, as well as an expedition sponsored by the government of Taiwan.

The expeditions quickly encountered delays. The climbing sherpas and guides had not set the fixed ropes by the time the team reached the Balcony (8,350 m/27,395 ft), and this cost the climbers almost an hour. There is some question as to the cause of this failure, which cannot now be resolved as the expedition leaders perished.[12]

Upon reaching the Hillary Step (8,760 m/28,740 ft), the climbers again discovered that no fixed line had been placed, and they were forced to wait an hour while the guides installed the ropes. Because some 33 climbers were attempting the summit on the same day, and Hall and Fischer had asked their climbers to stay within 150 m of each other, there was a bottleneck at the single fixed line at the Hillary Step.

Climbing without supplemental oxygen, guide Boukreev from the Mountain Madness team reached the summit (8,848 m/29,029 ft) first at 13:07.[13] Many of the climbers had not yet reached the summit by 14:00, the last safe time to turn around to reach Camp IV before nightfall.

Boukreev began his descent to Camp IV at 14:30, having spent nearly 1.5 hours at or near the summit helping others complete their climb. By that time, Hall, Krakauer, Harris, Beidleman, and Mountain Madness clients Martin Adams and Klev Schoening had reached the summit,[13] and the remaining four Mountain Madness clients had arrived. After this time, Krakauer noted that the weather did not look so benign. At 15:00 snow started to fall, and the light was diminishing.

Hall's Sirdar, Ang Dorje Sherpa, and other climbing sherpas waited at the summit for the clients. Near 15:00, they began their descent. On the way down, Ang Dorje encountered client Doug Hansen above the Hillary Step and ordered him to descend. Hansen did not respond verbally, but shook his head and pointed upward, toward the summit. "Being turned around the year before, so close to the top, had come to possess him, to rule his every waking thought. Doug came back to Everest in 1996 vowing that under no circumstance was he going to be turned around again."[14][15] When Hall arrived at the scene, the sherpas offered to take Hansen to the summit, but Hall sent the sherpas down to assist the other clients, and instructed them to stash oxygen canisters on the route. Hall said he would remain to help Hansen, who had run out of supplementary oxygen.[15]

Scott Fischer did not summit until 15:45. He was exhausted from the ascent and becoming increasingly ill, possibly suffering from HAPE, HACE, or a combination of both. Others, including Doug Hansen and Makalu Gau, reached the summit even later.[12]

Descent in a blizzard[edit]

Boukreev recorded that he reached Camp IV by 17:00. The reasons for Boukreev's decision to descend ahead of his clients are disputed.[16] Boukreev maintained that he wanted to be ready to assist struggling clients farther down the slope, and to retrieve hot tea and extra oxygen if necessary.[17] Krakauer sharply criticized Boukreev's decision not to use bottled oxygen.[18] Boukreev's supporters (who include G. Weston DeWalt, Boukreev's co-author of The Climb (1997)) state that using bottled oxygen gives a false sense of security.[19] Krakauer and his supporters point out that, without bottled oxygen, Boukreev was unable to directly help his clients descend,[20] and that Boukreev said that he was going down with client Martin Adams,[20] but later descended faster and left Adams behind.[20]

The worsening weather began causing difficulties for the descending team members. The blizzard on the southwest face of Everest was diminishing visibility, burying the fixed ropes, and obliterating the trail back to Camp IV that the teams had broken on the ascent.

Fischer, helped by Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa, was unable to descend below the Balcony (8,350 m/27,395 ft) in the storm. Sherpas left Makalu Gau (at 8,230 m/27,000 ft by Gau's account[21]) with Fischer and Lopsang when Gau, too, became unable to proceed. Eventually, Lopsang was persuaded by Fischer to descend and leave him and Gau.[12]

Hall radioed for help, saying that Hansen had fallen unconscious but was still alive. At 17:30 Adventure Consultants guide Andy Harris, carrying supplementary oxygen and water, began climbing alone from the South Summit (8,749 m/28,700 ft) toward Hansen and Hall at the top of Hillary Step.[citation needed]

Krakauer's account notes that by this time, the weather had deteriorated into a full-scale blizzard. "Snow pellets borne on 70-mph winds stung my face."[22] Boukreev gives 18:00 as "the onset of a blizzard".[13]

Several climbers became lost on the South Col. Mountain Madness members Beidleman, Klev Schoening, Fox, Madsen, Pittman, and Gammelgaard, along with Adventure Consultant members Mike Groom, Beck Weathers, and Yasuko Namba wandered in the blizzard until midnight. When they could no longer walk, they huddled some 20 m from a dropoff of the Kangshung Face.[23]

Near midnight, the blizzard cleared sufficiently for the team to see Camp IV, some 200 m away. Beidleman, Groom, Schoening, and Gammelgaard set off to find help. Madsen and Fox remained on the mountain with the group, to shout for the rescuers. Boukreev located the climbers and brought Pittman, Fox, and Madsen to safety. Boukreev had prioritized Pittman, Fox, and Madsen over Namba, who seemed close to death; he did not see Weathers. Having made two forays to rescue these three climbers, Boukreev, in common with all other climbers then at Camp IV, was exhausted and felt not able to make another attempt to reach Namba and Weathers.[citation needed]

11 May[edit]

On 11 May, at 04:43, Hall radioed Base Camp and said he was on the South Summit (8,749 m/28,700 ft). He reported that Harris had reached the two men, but Hansen, who had been with him since the previous afternoon, was now "gone", and Harris was missing. Hall was not breathing bottled oxygen because his regulator was too choked with ice.

By 09:00, Hall had fixed his oxygen mask but indicated that his frostbitten hands and feet were making it difficult to traverse the fixed ropes. Later in the afternoon, he radioed Base Camp, asking them to call his wife, Jan Arnold, on the satellite phone. During this last communication, he reassured her that he was reasonably comfortable and told her, "Sleep well, my sweetheart. Please don't worry too much." Shortly thereafter, he died. His body was found on 23 May by mountaineers from the IMAX expedition, but was left there as requested by his wife, who said she thought he was "where he'd liked to have stayed".[24] The bodies of Doug Hansen and Andy Harris have never been found.

Meanwhile, Stuart Hutchison, a client on Hall's team who had turned around before the summit on 10 May, launched a second search for Weathers and Namba. He found both alive, but barely responsive and severely frostbitten, and in no condition to move. Making the difficult decision that they could not be saved by the hypoxic survivors at Camp IV nor evacuated in time, he left them for nature to take its course, which the other survivors soon agreed was the only choice.[25]

However, Weathers later in the day regained consciousness and walked alone, under his own power, to the camp, surprising everyone there, though he was still suffering severe hypothermia and frostbite. Despite receiving oxygen and attempts to rewarm him, Weathers was practically abandoned again the next morning, 12 May, after a storm had collapsed his tent overnight, and the other survivors once again thought he had died. Krakauer discovered he was still conscious when the survivors in Camp IV prepared to evacuate. Despite his worsening condition, Weathers found he could still move mostly under his own power. A rescue team mobilized, hopeful of getting Weathers down the mountain alive. Over the next two days, Weathers was ushered down to Camp II with the assistance of eight healthy climbers from various expeditions, and was evacuated by a daring, high-altitude helicopter rescue. He eventually recovered but lost his nose, right hand, his forearm to a point halfway between his wrist and elbow, and all the fingers on his left hand due to frostbite.[26]

The climbing sherpas located Fischer and Gau on 11 May, but Fischer's condition had deteriorated so much that they were only able to give palliative care before rescuing Gau. Boukreev made a subsequent rescue attempt but found Fischer's frozen body at around 19:00. Like Weathers, Gau was evacuated by helicopter.

Indo-Tibetan Border Police[edit]

Less well known are the other three fatalities of the day: half the climbing team from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police North Col expedition from India (Subedar Tsewang Samanla, Lance Naik Dorje Morup, and Head Constable Tsewang Paljor), who perished on the Northeast Ridge.


The disaster was partially caused by the sheer number of climbers attempting to ascend (34 climbers on May 10, 1996). The congestion of the crowd, combined with delays in securing ropes, caused bottlenecks at the Hillary Step and delayed the ascent of many climbers. Therefore, many summitted after the safe 14:00 turnaround time.

Jon Krakauer has suggested that the use of bottled oxygen and commercial guides, who personally accompanied and took care of all pathmaking, equipment, and important decisions, allowed otherwise unqualified climbers to attempt to summit, leading to dangerous situations and more deaths.[27] In addition, he wrote that the competition between Hall and Fischer's guiding companies may have led to Hall's decision not to turn back on 10 May after the pre-decided time for summiting of 14:00; Krakauer also acknowledges that his own presence as a journalist for an important magazine for mountaineers may have added pressure to guide clients to the summit despite growing dangers.[28] He proposed banning bottled oxygen except for emergency cases, arguing that this would both decrease the growing pollution on Everest—many discarded bottles have accumulated on its slopes—and keep marginally qualified climbers off the mountain. He does point out, however, that climbing Everest has always been a highly dangerous endeavour even before the guided tours, with one fatality for every four climbers who reach the summit. Furthermore, he notes that many of the poor decisions made on 10 May were after two or more days of inadequate oxygen, nourishment, and rest (due to the effects of entering the death zone above 8,000 m/26,000 ft). He concludes that decisions made in such circumstances should not be strongly criticized by the general population, who have not experienced such conditions.[29]

Krakauer also elaborated on the statistical curiosities of fatality rates on Everest and how 1996 was "business as usual". The record number of 12 fatalities in the spring climbing season that year was 3% of the 398 climbers who had ascended above Base Camp—slightly below the historical average of 3.3% at that time. Additionally, 12 climbers had died that season, and 84 had reached the summit. This is a ratio of 1 in 7—significantly less than the historical average prior to 1996 of 1 in 4. Since the fatality rates on Everest have dropped considerably, accounting for the volume of climbers in 1996 compared to prior years, 1996 was statistically a safer-than-average year.[30]

In May 2004, Kent Moore, a physicist, and John L. Semple, a surgeon, both researchers from the University of Toronto, told New Scientist magazine that an analysis of weather conditions on 11 May suggested that freak weather caused oxygen levels to plunge by around 14%.[31][32]

List of fatalities[edit]

Name[33] Nationality Expedition Location of death Cause of Death
Andrew "Andy" Harris (Guide) New Zealand Adventure Consultants Southeast Ridge, 8,700 m Unknown; hypothesized as falling during descent near summit
Doug Hansen (Client) United States South Summit
Rob Hall (Guide) New Zealand Exposure
Yasuko Namba (Client) Japan South Col
Scott Fischer (Guide) United States Mountain Madness Southeast Ridge, 8,300 m
Subedar Tsewang Samanla India Indo-Tibetan Border Police Northeast Ridge, 8,600 m
Lance Naik Dorje Morup India
Head Constable Tsewang Paljor India

Other fatalities in 1996[edit]

The following is a list of the other fatalities during the spring 1996 climbing season on Everest. These deaths were not directly related to the storm or the events of the 10–11 May 1996 Everest disaster.

  • 9 May – Chen Yu-Nan (陳玉男) – from the Taiwanese National Expedition, died after a fall down the Lhotse Face[34]
  • 19 May – Reinhard Wlasich – Austrian climber, died from a combination of HAPE and HACE at 8,300 m (27,200 ft), on the Northeast Ridge[35]
  • 25 May – Bruce Herrod – photojournalist with the South African team, was on the South Col during the 10–11 May storm and reached the summit two weeks later, but died descending the Southeast Ridge[36]
  • 6 June – Ngawang Topche Sherpa – Nepalese Sherpa for Mountain Madness, developed a severe case of HAPE on 22 April while working above Base Camp; died in June in a Kathmandu hospital[37]

The following fatalities occurred on Everest during the fall 1996 climbing season.[38][39]

  • 25 September – Yves Bouchon – French climber, died in an avalanche at 7,800 m (25,600 ft) on the southeast route below Camp IV, along with the two sherpas listed below
  • 25 September – Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa – Nepalese Sherpa, the same climbing Sirdar on the Mountain Madness expedition involved in the May 1996 Everest disaster; died in avalanche
  • 25 September – Dawa Sherpa – Nepalese sherpa; died in avalanche

In the epilogue to High Exposure, David Breashears describes encountering some of the bodies upon climbing Everest again, in May 1997.[40]

In media[edit]

  • Into Thin Air: Death on Everest (released November 9, 1997), is a made-for-TV movie based on Jon Krakauer's book Into Thin Air: A Personal Account of the Mt. Everest Disaster (1997). The film, directed by Robert Markowitz and written by Robert J. Avrech, tells the story of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster.[41]
  • The IMAX film Everest (1998) also documents the disaster, and the involvement of that film's crew and climbing team in the rescue effort.[42]
  • The Dark Side of Everest (2003), National Geographic Channel, discusses climbers' motivations, the ethics and challenge involved when climbers encounter trouble at high altitudes, and specific disasters, e.g., the May 10–11, 1996 Mount Everest disaster and Bruce Herrod's death on 25 May 1996.
  • Remnants of Everest: The 1996 Tragedy (2007; released in the US as Storm over Everest and broadcast on the US PBS-TV series Frontline), is a documentary by director David Breashears[43]), with music composed by Jocelyn Pook.
  • The events inspired additional media including the feature film Everest (2015).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Mount Everest Nepal Earthquate". The New York Times. April 28, 2015. 
  2. ^ Krakauer 1997
  3. ^ Boukreev, Anatoli; G. Weston Dewalt (1997). The Climb: Tragic Ambitions on Everest. New York: St. Martins. ISBN 978-0-312-96533-4. 
  4. ^ Weathers, Beck; Stephen G. Michaud (2000). Left For Dead: My Journey Home from Everest. New York: Villard. ISBN 978-0-375-50404-4. 
  5. ^ Gammelgard, Lene (2000). Climbing High: A Woman's Account of Surviving the Everest Tragedy. New York: Perennial. ISBN 978-0-330-39227-3. 
  6. ^ Trueman, Mike (2015). The Storms: Adventure and Tragedy on Everest. Sheffield, UK: Baton Wicks. ISBN 978-1-898573-95-1. 
  7. ^ Dickinson, Matt (1997). The Death Zone: Climbing Everest Through The Killer Storm. Hutchinson. ISBN 978-0-09-180239-4. 
  8. ^ Dickinson, Matt (2000). The Other Side of Everest: Climbing the North Face Through the Killer Storm. New York: Crown. ISBN 978-0-8129-3159-4. 
  9. ^ a b Krakauer 1997, pp. xv–xvi
  10. ^ Boukreev; Dewalt p. 12
  11. ^ "David A. Sowles Memorial Award - American Alpine Club". americanalpineclub.org. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  12. ^ a b c "Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa's response to Krakauer's article". Outsideonline.com. Archived from the original on 19 September 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  13. ^ a b c "Anatoli Boukreev's response to Krakauer's article". Outsideonline.com. Retrieved 5 December 2010. [dead link]
  14. ^ 4
  15. ^ a b Storm Over Everest. Statement by Ang Dorje 
  16. ^ "Salon Wanderlust | Coming down". Salon.com. 10 May 1996. Archived from the original on 26 October 2010. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  17. ^ "Summit Journal '96: Scott Fischer Returns to Everest: Anatoli Boukreev response". outsideonline.com. Archived from the original on 30 May 2001. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  18. ^ "Summit Journal '96: Scott Fischer Returns to Everest: Reply from Jon Krakauer". outsideonline.com. Archived from the original on 31 May 2001. Retrieved 27 September 2015. 
  19. ^ GlaxoSmithKline: On top of the world – Acclimatisation Archived 25 May 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ a b c Coming Down page 3 DWIGHT GARNER salon.com 1998 August
  21. ^ "Gau's account and pictures". Classic.mountainzone.com. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 
  22. ^ Krakauer, Jon (1997). Into Thin Air. 
  23. ^ Storm Over Everest. 1998. 
  24. ^ , April 22, 2010"{{|The Australian|}}
  25. ^ Krakauer 1997, pp. 322–4
  26. ^ Krakauer 1997, pp. 342–4, 368
  27. ^ Krakauer 1997, pp. 355–8
  28. ^ Krakauer 1997, p. 354
  29. ^ Krakauer 1997, pp. 357–8
  30. ^ Krakauer 1997, p. 274
  31. ^ "The Day the Sky Fell on Everest". New Scientist (2449): 15. May 29, 2004. Retrieved December 11, 2006. 
  32. ^ Peplow, Mark (May 25, 2004). "High Winds Suck Oxygen from Everest: Predicting Pressure Lows Could Protect Climbers". BioEd Online. Retrieved December 11, 2006. Moore explains that these jet streaks can drag a huge draught of air up the side of the mountain, lowering the air pressure. He calculates that this typically reduces the partial pressure of oxygen in the air by about 6%, which translates to a 14% reduction in oxygen uptake for the climbers. Air at that altitude already contains only one third as much oxygen as sea-level air. 
  33. ^ List of Everest Fatalities AdventureStats.com
  34. ^ Krakauer 1997, p. 155
  35. ^ Krakauer 1997, p. 276
  36. ^ Krakauer 1997, p. 278
  37. ^ Krakauer 1997, pp. 108–114
  38. ^ "Video". CNN. 14 October 1996. Retrieved 24 February 2011. 
  39. ^ MountainZone.com | "Lopsang Jangbu Sherpa killed in Everest avalanche" Check |url= scheme (help). Mountain Zone. 
  40. ^ Breashears, David. "Epilogue". High Exposure.  "Except for Scott's body, still wrapped with a pack and rope the way Anatoli had left him, the summit slopes were mercifully free of the tragedy. When we reached the South Summit, Rob had disappeared from sight, shrouded by a tall drift formed around his body. Andy Harris and Doug Hansen may lie near him, though we'll probably never know. [...] Near the base of the Hillary Step we found the last vestige of the 1996 disasters, the body of Bruce Herrod, the photojournalist who'd been with the South African team."
  41. ^ Into Thin Air: Death on Everest. November 9, 1997. 
  42. ^ Baumgarten, Marjorie (October 14, 2014). "Everest". The Austin Chronicle. Retrieved November 19, 2014. 
  43. ^ Frontline: Storm Over Everest. PBS. 2007. 


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