American mountain climber and wingsuit flier Joby Ogwyn was on Mt. Everest on April 18 when an avalanche killed 16 Sherpa guides, making it the single deadliest day ever on the mountain. Ogwyn was there to prepare for a planned wingsuit jump off the summit of Everest to be broadcast live on Discovery on May 11.
Though the jump was swiftly canceled, Ogwyn participated in the Discovery special “Everest Avalanche Tragedy,” which will air Sunday.
He was in his tent at base camp when he heard the avalanche at 6:45 a.m. that day. “I looked outside and saw the avalanche coming down,” Ogwyn recalled in an interview. “Everyone got wiped out that I could see.”
Though Ogwyn’s camp was not in the path of the avalanche that occurred in the mountain’s Khumbu Icefall, he knew immediately that the jump he was there to carry out would not happen.
“We were just doing all we could do to find our guys and get their dead bodies off the mountain,” he said.
Three of the 16 people that died that day were Sherpas working with Ogwyn’s team.
“We were trying to reach our guys by radio, but we couldn’t get anyone on the radio,” Ogwyn recalled. “Within an hour we knew they were dead. They’d found some pieces of equipment that had literally gotten blown off the guys. Boots and backpacks.”
Ogwyn hasn’t given up completely on the prospect of jumping off the top of Mt. Everest in his specially designed wingsuit -- maybe next year -- but for the time being he’s focused on helping out the families of dead Sherpas.
In the aftermath of the disaster, the Sherpas, who have traditionally been the people to guide climbers up and down the dangerous mountain, have refused to climb, citing the unsafe conditions that have led to many deaths over the years.
“I think it’s their right to,” he said of the Sherpas’ strike. “It’s very fresh in their minds... But life goes on. It’s going to be pretty hard for a lot of guys to make a living if they don’t want to work, including myself. I don’t want to find something else to do and I think a lot of Sherpas in that region take a lot of pride in what they do. Everybody, Western people and Sherpa, needed to take some time to let this sink in and go away a little bit before we start planning the next season on Everest.”
Though he said the disaster has not affected his plans for the jump itself, when he eventually does it, he will probably forgo the traditional climb up the mountain.
“We will bypass the danger in the icefall using helicopters,” Ogwyn said. “Helicopters have been used quite a lot in the last three or four years to pick people up at the higher levels. So the same would go with dropping people and equipment off. So we could bypass that very dangerous part at the bottom.”