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EVEREST conqueror Sir Edmund Hillary has died, New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark announced today.

He died this morning at the age of 88.

Sir Edmund became the first person to stand on Mt Everest, the world's highest peak, on June 2, 1953 - the day of Queen Elizabeth's coronation.

His chance to make his mark in history came when selected for the 1953 British expedition to climb Mt Everest, led by former commando Colonel John Hunt, later Lord Hunt.

On the mountain, the first assault team that tried to reach the 8848m summit was driven back by altitude sickness.

Hillary, who was renowned for his fitness and speed, was chosen along with Sherpa Tenzing to try next.

As he and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay descended from the May 29 attempt on the mountain, Hillary told fellow climbers: "We knocked the ******* off.""

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