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Mount Everest group leader denies he left man on ascent

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- A Mount Everest expedition leader criticized for directing his climbers past a dying British mountaineer said yesterday he did not know anyone was in trouble during his team's ascent, when the man could have been helped.

Russell Brice said he only knew David Sharp was in distress when his team contacted him by radio during their descent, when they were exhausted and low on oxygen .

In an e-mailed statement, Brice disputed comments made by other climbers in his group, who said Brice knew about Sharp on their way up -- when they were stronger and better supplied -- and told them that nothing could be done.

Sharp, 34, died in a snow cave 1,000 feet from the peak, apparently from oxygen deprivation suffered during his solo descent.

The circumstances of Sharp's death have brought stinging rebukes from Sir Edmund Hillary -- the first person to reach Everest's summit, with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay. Hillary said it was ``horrifying" that climbers could leave a dying man and proceed toward the summit instead.

Hillary said he would have abandoned his own pioneering climb in 1953 to save another life.

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