The Discovery Channel's plans to film a live wingsuit flight attempt from the top of Mount Everest were put on hold on the morning of April 18 when an avalanche struck the Khumbu Icefall, the area just above base camp. A total of 16 Sherpa died in the slide – the deadliest single-day avalanche in history on Everest.
At the time the tragedy struck, Discovery's film team was at base camp with wingsuit pilot Joby Ogwyn and expedition leader Garrett Madison. "It was around 6:45 in the morning and I'd just woken up when I heard the sound," says Ogwyn. "On Everest you hear a lot of sounds that could be avalanches, but I unzipped my tent and I went out. I could tell it was big and I watched it go down the mountain like a snake."
Three of the 16 Sherpa who died in the tragedy were from the Discovery team. "We kept trying to reach them on our radios, but they weren't responding," says Ogwyn. At that point, Ogwyn and team changed their objective. He and Madison took off to assist in the rescue mission at the Icefall, and the film crew set about documenting the effort.
"We were at Mt. Everest to make history, but instead we were there as eyewitnesses to history," said Eileen O'Neill, Group President, Discovery, Science and Velocity Networks. The resulting 90-minute documentary, titled "Everest Avalanche Tragedy," includes intimate access and eyewitness accounts from the rescue and recovery efforts that took place after the avalanche struck.
Ogwyn hopes that the documentary will serve as a tribute to all the Sherpas and their families affected by the tragedy. In addition, Discovery will be contributing to the American Himalayan Foundation Sherpa Family Fund, which gives 100% of all donations to help families of the deceased. To make a contribution, visit globalgiving.org.
More information: "Everest Avalanche Tragedy" airs Sunday, May 4 at 9 PM on the Discovery Channel.