The High-Flying Yeti of Dhampus Pass

Features Issue 168 Nov, 2015

Yeti - a large hairy creature resembling a human or bear, said to live in the high Himalayas.

A high-flying Yeti? What’s next!

In 1960, a Swiss mountaineering expedition flew to Nepal to climb Dhaulagiri peak with the help of a Yeti, the abominable snowman of the Himalayas. But this particular Yeti was unusual?it had wings. They put it to good use and, in the process, the Swiss bagged the first ascent of the world’s 7th highest peak. 

In the 14 years between 1950 and 1964, all 14 of the world’s eight-thousand meter peaks (26,246 ft+) were climbed. The first was Annapurna (8,019 m, 10th highest) by a French team in 1950, followed by Everest (8,850 m) in 1953 by the British. By 1964, all had been summited. All are in Asia, in the Himalayas (Nepal, India, and Tibet) and Hindu Kush (Pakistan/China).

The 7th highest among them is Nepal’s Dhaulagiri, the ‘White Mountain’, which rises 8,167 m (26,795 ft) into the sky. Dhaulagiri is considered one of the most difficult to climb, and is especially renowned for wild storms and killer avalanches. It was attempted eight times, before the Swiss topped it. 

The 1960 Swiss Dhaulagiri Expedition was doubly notable. Not only did Swiss mountaineers reach the summit (on May 13), but they used a Pilatus P-6 Porter STOL (short take-off and landing) aircraft, nicknamed ‘Yeti’, to help them. In his book, The Ascent of Dhaulagiri (1961), expedition leader Max Eiselin describes the climb, and how his team used the history-making STOL airplane. 

Everything about the Yeti was New

The first P-6 was manufactured in Switzerland only a year earlier, in 1959. And although Pilatus aircraft were well known in the Alps, none had ever been used on a Himalayan expedition. The Pilatus was named after a minor peak in the central Alps, based on a legend that the body of Pontius Pilate, the Roman official who presided over the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, lay somewhere on the mountain. 

The Swiss had high expectations for their Yeti. In his book, Max Eiselin explains how the aircraft was used to transport stores and equipment directly to the high camps. By flying the supplies in, they radically altered the usual practice of hiring porters to carry heavy loads up to base camp. During the expedition, the Yeti landed many times on Dhampus Pass (‘Dambush’ in Eiselin’s book) at an elevation of 5,200 meters (17,060 ft). 

The expedition supply flights were undertaken with “the greatest margin of safety”, he writes: 

“We intended to do without porters and transport everything needed for the acclimatization camp on the Dambush Pass by means of the Yeti, the rest of the stores being dumped on the NE Col as soon as possible. As this was an experiment which had never been attempted before in the Himalayas—the world height record up to that time being 4,200 m—we intended to be careful and... [were] determined only to fly in really good weather, and certainly not in strong winds... In order to be on the safe side we also worked out an approach march on foot just in case the machine failed us at the last minute. It was much too risky to base everything on an untried method of approach when the prize was a still unclimbed 8,000-m peak.”

World Record Landing

The Yeti’s history-making flights began on March 28, when Max Eiselin and two pilots, Ernst Saxer and Emil Wick, flew for the first time to Dambush. After taking off from an airfield in the Nepal lowlands, Eiselin looked down and remembered the long approach march while trekking in during an earlier expedition—“the exhausting passes, the slow advance from one valley to another over ridges and through gorges, the blistering sun, the dust and the thirst.” 

Flying now, high above the wild Kali Gandaki River near Tukucha (Tukché village), “Ernst turned off to the left and put on his oxygen mask. The landing required meticulous concentration. We saw the Dambush Pass below us and crossed over it to ‘Hidden Valley’ beyond. We were pleasantly surprised to find that there was no wind...”

After a high sweeping turn, Wick wound down the flaps, and the plane “touched down on the snow-fields of the Dambush Pass as lightly as a feather. We were overjoyed to find that the Pass made an ideal landing-ground. The problem of the approach march was solved...” 

They unloaded supplies and established a camp for later use. Then, with a wind-sock in place, “the highest airfield in the world was open for business... The altimeter stood at 5,200 m and the thermometer at -12° C. The snow was nice and hard and the runway sloped gradually towards the Kali Gandaki valley without any obstructions. It could not have been better.”

During take-off, the Yeti rushed full speed down slope “like a skier taking off at the top of a ski jump. Then Ernst pulled back a little on the stick and the Yeti straightened up and glided softly out into the air...” Almost as a second thought, Eiselin added that the “landing on Dambush Pass was not only the first snow landing in the Himalayas, but constituted a world’s height record into the bargain.”

A few days later, they landed even higher, at 5,750 m (18,865 ft) on Dhaulagiri’s NE Col. To this day, the Pilatus P-6 ‘Yeti’ holds the world record for highest landing by a fixed wing single-engine aircraft, up there on Dhaulagiri glacier. 

The Demise of ‘Yeti’

Supply flights to Dambush Pass and the NE Col continued uneventfully until May. In the course of 16 flights, Saxer and Wick transported many supplies and several expedition members to the mountain. What took them eight to 12 minutes flight time from Pokhara in the Nepal midhills, took others, on foot, four days or more to accomplish on mountain trails. 

Then, eight days before the summit assault, the P-6 flights came to a sudden end. Yeti landed at Dambush that morning as usual, but never came back. Something went wrong, and unable to contact the crew, Eiselin worried about their safety. He had no idea what had happened. 

That day, May 5, was a “black day” for the expedition, and the blackest of his flying career, Ernst Saxer, the pilot, wrote in his diary. The morning weather was perfect and the landing was flawless, but at take-off, something went terribly wrong. 

“Emil shook the plane by the struts in order to loosen the skis in the snow, [and] I then gave full throttle and we slid along the old track. We were airborne in barely fifty yards, as fine a take-off as one could wish for. I pulled back the control column hard against me. The blue glaciers of the Tibetan frontier mountains glittered in the distance.

“But what was that! My hand suddenly shot up in the air and hit the roof. To my consternation I realized that I was firmly grasping the rubber grip of the column in both hands. The column, without my guiding hand on it, shot forwards and before I had grasped the situation, there was a sudden crashing and splintering on all sides. Snow was whirling about and completely obstructed our view...”

Yeti nose-dived, cascading out of control down the slope. After a hard jolt, the plane spun around and stopped. Then, total silence. Upon exiting the cockpit, the pilots saw a “spectacle of utter ruin.” The ailerons were torn off. The left wing was badly bent. The tail and undercarriage were smashed. The propeller was twisted out of shape, and the engine was ruined. Yeti would never fly again.

The pilots picked up gear scattered across the crash site, and wondered how they would survive the night at that altitude. Saxer was unhurt, but Wick suffered a gash on his head, and had altitude sickness with a severe headache. They found food (mostly Toblerone chocolate bars) and a few warm clothes in an empty tent, but without sleeping bags they spent a miserably cold night. 

The following morning, Saxer set out to get help from the closest camp, many hours walk south on French Pass. He turned back when he realized it was too far to go in the snow without proper footgear and cold weather clothing. After two more nights alone at Dambush, he and Wick realized that they had to walk out to safety. Early Sunday morning, May 8, they left for Tukché, the nearest village, many miles east, and steeply down 2610 m (8,563 ft) in the river valley. Shortly after leaving the pass, a search plane flew over and spotted them. They felt a little better knowing that others on the expedition saw that they were alive; but the search plane couldn’t land there. Twelve hours later, Saxer and Wick reach Tukché, totally exhausted and hurting from the steep descent. From there, they walked another four days out to Pokhara. 

Before leaving Dambush, Saxer had left a note where it would be found by whoever came looking for them. He knew that the expedition was near its end, and that they wouldn’t meet other team members before the final assault on the summit. The note reached Max Eiselin days later, when a Sherpa brought it back from the pass. It read, in part-

“Dambush, 7 May

Dear Comrades,

10.15 a.m., 5 May. Yeti crashed after take-off. Rubber grip of control column broke off. Emil and I uninjured. Staying here until morning of 8 May... Emil is in bad shape. Going down to Tukucha tomorrow, as short of fuel and food. Hope to be in Pokhara on 12/5...

Yeti lies 300 m in direction of Hidden Valley, some equipment still lying about...

With best wishes for the success of the expedition,

Ernst and Emil.” 

The ‘Yeti’ Today

It’s been over half a century since the Yeti crashed on Dambush (Dhampus) Pass. Trekkers on the popular Dhaulagiri Circuit Trail now find very little wreckage, only a few scattered pieces of the dead Yeti. Yak herders, trekkers, mountaineers, and others have stripped it clean of any useful parts, and for souvenirs. 

In the early 2000s, some Swiss airplane aficionados considered coming to Nepal to bring the remains of the pioneering Pilatus P-6 ‘Yeti’ back home to Switzerland. But they gave up when they realized there was too little left to recover, and how difficult and costly such an ambitious adventure would be. 


The Pilatus P-6 Porter named Yeti is dead. Long live the Yeti!  

yeti - a large hairy creature...


‘Yeti’- a name given to the Pilatus Porter p-6 HB-FAN #337 single-engine, fixed 

wing STOL aircraft used on the 1960 Swiss Dhaulagiri Expedition in Nepal.










8091 m


1950, June 3




8850 m


1953, May 29



Nanga Parbat

8125 m


1953, July 3



K2 (Godwin-Austin)

8611 m


1954, July 31



Cho Oyu

8201 m


1954, October 19




8463 m


1955, May 15




8163 m


1956, May 9




8516 m


1956, May 18




8586 m


1956, May 25




8035 m


1956, July 7



Broad Peak

8047 m


1957, June 9




8068 m


1958, July 4




8167 m


1960, May 13 



Shisha Pangma

8013 m


1964, May 2