Riding Shotgun with an Everest Helicopter Rescue Team

Everest Air, a new reality-adventure series premiering tonight on the Travel Channel, takes viewers inside high-stakes helicopter rescues, deep in the Himalayas. Led by medic and mountaineer, Jeff Evans, viewers sit shotgun as the Everest Air team zips across the Nepalese mountains to save injured climbers, suffering Sherpas, and — to the medics’ frustrations — occasionally even bozos calling for emergency medical treatment when they are just tired and cold.

Although there are now more helicopter services available for search and rescue in Nepal, those on the ground say these services are still in their infancy: "We've just scratched the surface of heli-operations in Nepal," Siddartha Jang Gurung, chief pilot and operations manager at Simrik Air told Men’s Journal. "People don't even understand yet what we can do." 

Evans’ special rescue team, Everest Air, was put together specifically for the show. Which means in addition to crafting a TV show, producers also provided a much-needed service in the ever-dangerous Everest region where free, rapid, medical transportation is in short supply.

“Jeff and his team were able to have an immediate and positive impact on the region — for the climbers, sherpas and Nepalis,” Courtney White, senior vice president, of programming, at Travel Channel, told Men’s Journal. “His team was able to make quick and efficient helicopter rescues to save lives.”

In other mountainous areas, like Alaska or the Alps, air rescue is typically a free, quick, reliable service. But near Everest medical helicopter services can cost as much as $10,000 a flight, require specific pre-approved insurance, and are often subject to bureaucratic red tape.

Evans, a seasoned medic and mountaineer, said it was incredibly satisfying to rescue very sick people who otherwise might not have been treated quickly. Trained as a physician’s assistant, Evans has spent 30 years summiting mountains across the world, and in 2001, he famously climbed Mount Everest with Erik Weihenmayer, the only blind climber to ever summit the peak.

“It costs a lot of money to operate a helicopter, and it is so expensive that you often have to wait on insurance to be able to go up and get somebody,” Evans explained. “But because the cameras were rolling, we were able to get in and go. The whole goal was to be of service as quickly as we could be.”

In one day of trips, Evans worked with other crews to rescue as many as 11 people in six hours. He remembered one rescue, where having a helicopter that could respond quickly was particularly important.

“We heard one Sherpa was having a full on heart attack and going in and out of consciousness at [Everest] Camp 2. I evaluated him, and I didn’t have an EKG machine, he was coronary artery spasms,” Evans said.

“I quickly figured out that we needed to get him down promptly. So I took him to the Lukla hospital and fortunately he wasn’t having a full blown heart attack but these coronary artery spasms, which are crazy painful, but he recovered quite nicely.”