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Expelled from school, he later achieved various qualifications required by the RAF (Royal Air Force), and studied MBA to certificate.
After thirty three years of Royal Air Force service he left as an Engineering Officer. He worked on Nimrod, Tornado jets and lastly as the Chief Engineer on Sea King Search and Rescue helicopters. Between engineering jobs he was the Staff Officer RAF Mountain Rescue Service in charge of teams in Scotland. In this position he took the first RAF team to climb Mt. Everest in 2001. This was a success and the first summit of Everest by an RAF team.
Ted, who has always been an outdoors person, joined the RAF Mountain Rescue Service as a volunteer in 1979 as a ‘Troop’, and served on several teams before Everest. During Mountain Rescue service he led the first RAF team to climb the North Face of the Eiger. He spent a year exploring in Antarctica where he was a mountain leader, surveyor and cartographer making maps of places no one had ever seen. He made 28 first ascents of mountains there. That was then followed by a period of service with the Royal Navy on HMS Endurance, principally as a marine engineer but also serving with the Royal Marines as their Mountain Leader. In this role he was awarded his coveted ‘Green Beret’ for work with the Marines on an Antarctic rescue mission where he led one of the two detachments. For his Antarctic work, he was invested with the Polar Medal by HM The Queen. His last job with the Service was attached to the SAS as the Project Officer for a 100% successful ascent of Everest.
He has maintained a 44-year link of service to his old Air Training Corps squadron 2425 in Nottinghamshire throughout and served as a reservist.
In his early career Ted was a boxer and was an RAF champion. Mountaineering in all of its forms was always a part of his life. Ted was an avid rock climber, later in Scotland discovering what would become his passion till he died, winter climbing. He was a BASI and Joint Service ski instructor in Alpine and Nordic disciplines and a hang glider pilot.
From rock and winter climbing Ted went to the Alps and onto the Himalayas, first in 1983 to Manaslu then onto the West Ridge of Everest in 1988. This is where he became involved with oxygen systems. This expedition was unsuccessful on a number of fronts but did sow the seed for the RAF Everest Expedition in 2001. In 1987 he was the Climbing Leader on the phenomenally successful Gimaghella expedition led by Marine Maj. Pat Parsons. This was a new route and first British ascent in good style.
Ted did not summit with the RAF Everest team because one of the team members got sick on the summit push. Ted and his partner Dr. Brian Kirkpatrick lost their summit making the rescue. He went back to Everest, this time to the south in Nepal in 2004 to climb the mountain on his own. Using his engineering head he deduced that the greatest aid to staying alive, keeping all fingers and toes, and success was to have a good oxygen delivery system. This was not available so he set out to invent one. This he did one day prior to setting off for the summit. The prototype had a condom inside a Coca-Cola bottle as the core component. People said he would die. One of his cylinders went missing on the mountain. He was left for dead on the summit but was saved by Mingma Sherpa and Andrew Lock. However the speed of his ascent had been noted by other climbers and he was asked by Jagged Globe to make commercial systems (without string or condoms was the condition). One year later and this system became the industry standard.
Ted set up business in Nepal and continued to develop and improve the oxygen systems used on Mt Everest and other high mountains. At this time it was considered that 1:10 people attempting Everest would die trying. Some years later he got a letter from the Nepalese Mountaineering Association thanking him for reducing the death rate from 1:10 to less than 1:700 (no typo). The Topout (Topout, to succeed, to summit a mountain or route) system was firmly established. The demand was such that Ted had to leave the Service early to concentrate on this new business. He went onto produce a new cylinder, cylinder valve, regulator and flow controller. Lastly he has built a plant to produce oxygen in Nepal in order to guarantee the quality of the gas that Topout supplies. A request to work with the Everest Skydive Team was taken up to give them a better oxygen system for jumps exiting the aircraft level with the summit of Everest. This was an outstanding success. The Topout Aero skydive system went on to become the industry standard some years ago and a number of world records have been set. This continues to evolve and now in the Military guise is MTOS, Military Tactical Oxygen System. As part of this new work Ted trained as a skydiver and earned one world record. He worked with Red Bull on the Mt Blanc project. Ted was a Science and Engineering Ambassador with a remit to stimulate and encourage (mainly) young people into science and engineering. He was an acclaimed public and motivational speaker. He has delivered talks in: UK, USA, Nepal, France and Italy where he lived in the Dolomites. In Nepal he was involved with several charity organizations inc: Duke of Edinburgh and was a trustee of an orphanage. He wrote a column in Nepal called Outside In where he told of the visitors' views of Nepal with the aim of making things better. He spoke to, and worked with the industry in Nepal and tried to influence events.
Continuing work on the evolution of various mountaineering oxygen systems has required big mountains to be climbed. Since Everest in 2004, Ted climbed: Makalu, Kangchenjunga, Lhotse, Lobuche East, and Ama Dablam. Ama Dablam was unique in that he parachuted into the Base Camp setting a world record then went onto climb the mountain. He was an avid skier on his home turf in Italy and a passionate mountaineer especially for winter climbing. He died descending Monte Civetta, one of the highest mountains of the Dolomites in the province of Belluno (Italy), on 20 August 2018.
- Dixit, Kunda. "Ted Atkins killed in climb". Nepali Times. Retrieved 21 August 2018.
- "Climber Ian 'Ted' Atkins and mountain guide Philipp Angelo killed in accidents". dreamwanderlust.com. 24 August 2018.