Citing the tragic avalanche Friday that claimed at least 13 lives, Discovery Channel on Sunday canceled “Everest Jump Live,” an historic event in which wingsuit flier Joby Ogwyn was to summit Mount Everest and jump off on live TV.
The deadly avalanche, the single-worst disaster in the iconic mountain’s history, swept through the Khumbu Icefall above Mount Everest base camp as Sherpas were installing fixed ropes in preparation for the climbing season, which was just getting underway.
About 50 climbers, mostly Sherpas at work, were engulfed in a cloud of snow and ice over the area. Originally, 12 Sherpas were reported dead, four were reported missing, and six were reported injured.
On his Facebook page, Ogwyn wrote, “I am safe at base camp, but I have lost my Sherpa team in the avalanche [Friday]. These men were the salt of the Earth. Far better men than me. My heart is broken.”
It was unknown how many Sherpas were in Ogwyn’s team for “Everest Jump Live,” which was scheduled for May 11.
Laurie Goldberg of Discovery Channel emailed this statement to GrindTV Outdoor on Sunday:
“In light of the overwhelming tragedy at Mount Everest and respect for the families of the fallen, Discovery Channel will not be going forward with ‘Everest Jump Live.’ Our thoughts and prayers go out to the whole Sherpa community.”
The future of the project beyond this year remains uncertain, as does the 2014 climbing season on Mount Everest.
The New York Times reported Sunday that the Sherpas, who make Mount Everest expeditions possible by setting ropes and carrying equipment, are considering going on strike because of the meager compensation the Nepali government offered families of the dead.
On Sunday, disappointed at the Nepali government’s offer of 40,000 rupees, or about $408, as compensation for the families of the dead, some Sherpas gathered at Everest’s base camp proposed a “work stoppage” that could disrupt or cancel the 334 expeditions planned for the 2014 climbing season.
Such a strike would be unprecedented, according to Ang Tshering Sherpa, president of the Nepal Mountaineering Association, who has pressed the government to increase the compensation package to $1,041 per family. He added that Sherpas were divided over whether to continue scaling Everest.
The dispute “has not yet been resolved,” he said.
The tension promises to heighten on Monday, when groups of Sherpas plan to carry the bodies of their dead colleagues through the streets of Katmandu, Nepal’s capital.
The avalanche occurred above 20,000 feet, more than 2,000 feet above Mount Everest base camp in an area considered the most dangerous part of the climbing route up the 29,035-foot mountain. The Khumbu Icefall has constantly shifting and falling ice, so it’s already a recipe for disaster, nevermind an avalanche.
“A cliff of snow, like a house, came directly toward us, and many were killed at the same time,” Kaji Sherpa told The New York Times from a hospital bed in Katmandu, Nepal. “There was nowhere to escape. If there was an open field, we could have dropped the baggage and escaped. But there was snow all around us that could have easily fallen if we stepped on it. So we were helpless.”
Everest is no stranger to disasters. Its worst previous tragedy occurred on May 11, 1996, when eight climbers disappeared in a massive snowstorm. That catastrophe was detailed in Jon Krakauer’s bestselling book Into Thin Air.
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