13 people are confirmed dead, and 3 more missing, after a deadly avalanche at Mt. Everest early this morning. All of those confirmed dead, as well as those still missing, were Nepalese sherpas who prepare the mountain for climbing season each year, some of which were contracted by NBCUniversal for the upcoming Discovery Channel special “Everest Jump Live” in which Joby Ogwyn was to attempt the first wing suit flight off the summit.
From The Daily Mail:
As first reported by MailOnline, five of the guides who died after the early morning avalanche on Mount Everest have been revealed as art [sic] of the team employed by NBC for an upcoming live jump special.
A member of the surviving NBC News crew confirmed what a government list obtained by MailOnline first revealed as the local crew were a part of the prep team hired ahead of an live jump that NBC’s Peacock Productions is shooting for Discovery Channel which will air in May.
Two of the fatalities were explicitly listed as being a part of the NBC Everest Expedition and three others were hired by Adventurist Expeditions, an Everest climbing company that the wingsuit jumper at the heart of the NBC special had previously worked with.
The rest of NBC’s “Everest Jump Live” crew were at the base of the mountain at the time of the avalanche. Peacock Productions producer Jonathan Fierro and cameraman Ed Wardle spoke with the Today Show from Mount Everest this morning. Here’s a video of that interview:
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Ed Wardle recounted what the experience was like for the crew at the base of the mountain. “First thing this morning, just before 7:00, we heard an avalanche and the ice fall,” he says. “It’s a pretty regular occurrence here, so nobody was shocked by that. But, when radio reports started coming off the mountain that people were stuck in the avalanche, everybody came out and started getting organized for the rescue.
Ed was asked if he knew any of the sherpas who had died or were missing and Ed said, “No, I couldn’t tell you the name of any of the sherpas who were up there.” He then added the rather unfortunate statement, “the biggest tragedy of this is that it’s the very beginning of the season, and to lose this number of people at the very beginning of the season may be the end of the season here.”
Wardle later revealed that their team had planned on leaving the night before. “Right behind me, over my shoulder is the Khumbu ice fall. It’s the first hurdle in the climb of Everest above base camp. Our plan was to leave last night along with the sherpas. We delayed for 24 hours, so we’re still down here safe.”
In a separate interview with Channel 4, Wardle talked about what the impact of the deaths would be on their expedition and the “Everest Jump Live” special.
“I’d think that many of the expeditions here will pack up and go home,” Wardle says. “For this number of people to die at the very beginning of the season is completely unacceptable”
“We came here looking for adventure, to celebrate Everest, but for something like this to happen makes the whole thing seem pointless to me and I believe that will be the same for many people here.
“People come here partly to take the risk of climbing a mountain like this at high altitude and they understand those risks, but still, when something this large happens, I think we all have to question what we’re doing here.”
Discovery’s executive vice president of communications, Laurie Goldberg, tells the Daily Mail, “The avalanche last night on Mt Everest is a terrible tragedy, and our thoughts and prayers are with those who are lost and with their families. The immediate priority for Joby and the team is to assist the search and rescue efforts in anyway possible.”
An NBC News spokesperson issued this statement about the tragedy:
“NBC News Peacock Productions’ crews were on Mt. Everest preparing for Discovery’s ‘Everest Jump Live’ when the avalanche struck. We are grateful and relieved that the seven NBC News staffers on site are all accounted for and unharmed. Tragically, 13 Nepalese sherpas from a number of expedition companies who prepare the mountain each year for climbing season lost their lives, and the rescue mission continues. We are working closely with the team on the ground to assist however we can, and our thoughts and prayers are with the affected families. The future of the production will be assessed at the appropriate time.”
Here is a description of the planned special from Discovery’s recent 2014 upfront presentation:
EVEREST JUMP LIVE – The world is about to witness one of the greatest human feats ever captured on television – when Joby Ogwyn attempts the first wing suit flight off the summit of Mount Everest. In May, Discovery will take viewers on the journey with two, one-hour pre-shows revealing Joby’s intense training and preparations for Everest. The special will then culminate with a live two-hour broadcast – showing Joby as he battles the grueling conditions on the way to Everest’s summit and ultimately when he takes the final plunge from the top. Joby’s custom-made wingsuit will be equipped with cameras bringing a bird’s eye view as he descends more than 10,000 vertical feet at speeds of over 150 mph.
Joby Ogwyn has yet to respond to the avalanche. His most recent tweet still remains this optimistic message shared yesterday:
At Everest base camp gearing up for climbing this weekend. It's good to be climbing in the big range again. Power up.
— Joby Ogwyn (@jobyogwyn) April 17, 2014
The thirteen deaths, which may rise to sixteen, is the deadliest recorded disaster in Mount Everest history.
“Everest Jump Live” was just one of many daredevil specials announced by Discovery after their hugely successful live broadcast of Nik Wallenda walking a tightrope across the Grand Canyon. Wallenda will be walking the tightrope again, this time between Chicago skyscrapers in “Skyscraper Live with Nik Wallenda.” The network also plans to air “Survival Live” in which “eight survivalists who think they have what it takes will compete in [a] 42-day live event” that will be broadcast on multiple platforms.