American adventurer Joby Ogwyn last month was getting ready to make the jump of his life, in a wing-suit off the world's tallest mountain Mount Everest. His daredevil feat was set to be broadcast live on Discovery Channel.
Instead, the 39-year-old witnessed the deadliest avalanche in the history of Mount Everest from his tent at base camp in the wee hours of the morning on April 18.
The natural disaster claimed the lives of 16 Sherpa guides. The Sherpas, who are from a Nepalese ethnic group, make a living acting as guides and porters to climbers.
Speaking to Life! over the phone from New York, Ogwyn says: "I heard the avalanche. I've seen a lot bigger and louder avalanches before, so I didn't think that it was that big of a deal. I opened my tent and I looked outside to see what it was. At first, I didn't see anything and then within about a split second, I saw the avalanche come over the top of the icefall and then start making its way down... I saw the avalanche come down and cover those guys up."
Discovery cancelled the stunt and the live special Everest Jump Live. With the avalanche footage the crew captured, the network has instead put together a 90-minute documentary, Everest Avalanche Tragedy, which will air here on Discovery Channel (StarHub TV Channel 422) tomorrow at 10pm.
The programme captures the moment the avalanche struck the Khumbu Icefall, the area just above Mount Everest base camp, and the rescue and recovery efforts. It also features eye-witness accounts, including an interview with Ogwyn.
The catastrophic avalanche has been called the worst disaster in Mount Everest's history. The previous large-scale calamity hit Mount Everest in 1996 when eight climbers disappeared in a storm.
The tragedy shed light on the dangers the Sherpas face as part of their job. A group of Sherpas reportedly went on strike to honour the casualties and to demand more compensation for the deceased Sherpas' surviving families from the Nepalese government.
Out of the 16 lives lost in the avalanche, three Sherpa guides belonged to Ogwyn's climbing team.
He says: "I found out over the radio that our guys were lost. That was a really devastating blow to me and my team. It was really a sad day.
"I've been going to the Himalayas for more than 15 years and been on maybe more than a dozen expeditions to the mountains in that area. This was my fourth expedition to Mount Everest and I'd never lost anybody until then. So it was a very tough situation."
Ogwyn, who first scaled the 8,848m-tall Mount Everest at the age of 24, has been preparing for the wing-suit jump off Mount Everest since 2007. He admits that it is a disappointment to not be able to complete the project.
"Our equipment was there. All of my people were there and the weather and the conditions on the mountain were better than I had ever seen them. It was really shaping up to be a perfect season on Everest until this happened.
"But I'm really trying to take my disappointment and turn it into something positive for the Sherpas," adds Ogwyn, who is raising awareness about The Sherpa Family Fund, which the American Himalayan Foundation set up in response to the avalanche deaths to provide for the surviving family members of the perished guides.
The adrenaline junkie, who is married to a lawyer, is not about to give up on his dreams and intends to go back to complete his wing-suit mission.
"The mountain is still there and isn't going anywhere."
This article was first published on May 31, 2014.
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