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Thousands mourn Everest conqueror Hillary

world Updated: Jan 22, 2008 16:18 IST

New Zealand paid tribute on Tuesday to Everest hero Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to stand on the roof of the world, at a rare state funeral beamed live to the Himalayas where he made his name.

New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark was among some 600 guests inside St Mary's church along with Hillary's widow June, son Peter and daughter Sarah, and the eldest son of the Nepalese guide, who accompanied him on his epic 1953 ascent.

High-level representatives from Australia, Britain, Canada, India, Ireland and the United States also attended.

Clark told the mourners that Hillary, knighted the same year, was "the most famous New Zealander of our times."

"Sir Ed described himself as a person of modest abilities," she added. "In reality he was a colossus, he was our hero.

"How privileged we were to have that living legend with us for 88 years."

At the start of the ceremony Sherpa representatives, who described Hillary as a second father, placed Buddhist mourning scarves over the coffin draped in a New Zealand flag.

Also on the coffin was the ice axe he used during the expedition.

Thousands of mourners stood outside or in Auckland's adjacent Holy Trinity Cathedral. Many more watched on huge screens set up in other parts of the city and around the country while telecasts of the funeral were beamed live around the world, including to Nepal and Antarctica.

During the service, family and friends gave moving tributes to the man, who had been the only living New Zealander depicted on the national currency.