2014 Mount Everest ice avalanche

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2014 Mount Everest ice avalanche
KhumbuIcefall.jpg
The Khumbu Icefall in 2005. The ice avalanche came from a serac failure from an ice bulge on Mount Everest's western shoulder (centre left), above the icefall.
Date 18 April 2014 (2014-04-18)
Time 06:45 local time (01:00 UTC)
Location Khumbu Icefall, Mount Everest
Coordinates 27°59′32″N 86°52′38″E / 27.99222°N 86.87722°E / 27.99222; 86.87722Coordinates: 27°59′32″N 86°52′38″E / 27.99222°N 86.87722°E / 27.99222; 86.87722
Cause Avalanche
Deaths 16
Non-fatal injuries 9

On 18 April 2014, seracs on the western spur of Mount Everest failed, resulting in an ice avalanche that killed sixteen climbing Sherpas in the Khumbu Icefall. This was the same icefall where the 1970 Mount Everest disaster had taken place. Thirteen bodies were recovered within two days, while the remaining three were never recovered due to the great danger of performing such an expedition. Many Sherpas were angered by what they saw as the Nepalese government's meager offer of compensation to victims' families, and threatened a protest or strike. On 22 April, the Sherpas announced they would not work on Everest for the remainder of 2014 as a mark of respect for the victims.

Background[edit]

Everest as seen from Gokyo Ri

Guide employment on Mount Everest[edit]

A Sherpa (a porter specialised in high-altitude work including rope fixing) on Mount Everest typically earns about US$125/day per climb. Most come from climbing families, are raised on stories of wealth from climbs, with relatively few other economic opportunities. Between 350 and 450 such people, mostly from the Sherpa ethnic group, work each year's climbing season.[1] (They are all referred to as "Sherpas" regardless of specific ethnicity.) As such, they can earn up to $5,000 a year, compared with Nepal's average annual salary of $700.[2]

In the years prior to the disaster, foreigners began bringing their own guides, causing tension with locals.[1] Eight people, including one of the most experienced Sherpa guides, died on Mount Everest in 2013.[3][4]

Concerns over Khumbu Icefall route[edit]

Khumbu Glacier + Khumbu Icefall + Mount Everest

The presence of numerous unstable blocks of ice (called seracs) in and above the Khumbu Icefall encourages climbers to try to pass through as quickly as possible, usually in the very early morning before temperatures rise and loosen the ice.[1] In the spring of 2012 Russell Brice, of the guiding company Himex, called off guided ascents run by his company due to safety concerns. He was worried about the stability of a 300 metres (980 ft) wide ice cliff, or ice bulge, on Mount Everest's western shoulder that could endanger the route through the Khumbu Icefall, if it collapsed. "When I see around 50 people moving underneath the cliff at one time," he commented, "it scares me."[5] However, Brice and Himex returned to the south side of Everest for the 2014 climbing season.[6] Mountaineer Alan Arnette reported that this ice bulge had been a known hazard for years and had discharged ice into the Khumbu Icefall almost every season. He added that, "In 2012 it narrowly missed many climbers."[7] According to writer and mountaineer Jon Krakauer, the 2014 ice avalanche was triggered when a block of ice "the size of a Beverly Hills mansion" broke off from the bulge.[5]

Conditions change regularly with the glacier's shifting ice, so climbing guides must find and maintain a new route through the icefall each season.[3]

Ice avalanche[edit]

At approximately 06:45 local time (01:00 UTC,18 April 2014), an ice avalanche occurred on the southern side of Mount Everest, at an elevation of approximately 5,800 metres (19,000 ft).[8] Twenty-five men, mostly Sherpas, were buried in the avalanche.[5] The group was fixing ropes and preparing the South Col route for fee-paying climbers during the upcoming climbing season.[3] The accident zone, locally known as "the Golden Gate" or "Popcorn Field", lies within the Khumbu Icefall.[1][8]

The ice avalanche came from a large serac breaking off on the slopes of Mount Everest's western shoulder. Despite most reporting this was not an avalanche in the usual sense of the word as there was little snow involved and the large blocks of serac ice behave much more like a rockfall.[1][9] The serac was estimated to have been 34.5 meters (113 ft) thick and to have had a mass of 14.3 million kilograms (31.5 million pounds).[10] Though there have been calls for construction of defensive structures, they are impossible on the scale necessary. [11]

This labeled photo-diagram shows the location of the fatal ice avalanche on the 2014 route, and the revised 2015 route through the Khumbu.

Victims[edit]

2014
Victims[1]
Mingma Nuru Sherpa
Dorji Sherpa
Ang Tshiri Sherpa
Nima Sherpa
Phurba Ongyal Sherpa
Lakpa Tenjing Sherpa
Chhiring Ongchu Sherpa
Dorjee Khatri
Then Dorjee Sherpa
Phur Temba Sherpa
Pasang Karma Sherpa
Asman Tamang
Tenzing Chottar Sherpa
Ankaji Sherpa
Pem Tenji Sherpa
Ash Bahadur Gurung

Sixteen people died in the disaster. Thirteen bodies were recovered as of 48 hours later, when search and rescue operations were called off due to "too much risk". Three victims are still buried in roughly 80 to 100 metres (260 to 330 ft) of snow and ice.[12] Nine other guides were also injured, including three who required intensive-care hospitalisation.[2][12]

Four fatalities were Sherpas from Nepal's Solukhumbu District.[13] Five were working for Discovery Channel, preparing for an upcoming special in which Joby Ogwyn was planning to attempt a BASE jump from the mountain.[4] No foreigners were killed.[1] According to mountaineer Tim Rippel, the victims were moving slowly and carrying large "loads of equipment, tents, stoves, oxygen and so on up to stock camps" when the avalanche occurred.[1] The Sherpas had started out in early morning but were delayed by poor climbing conditions.[3][4] The second unit crew of disaster movie Everest (2015) were filming nearby, but suffered no injuries or fatalities; Sherpas involved with the film's production gave assistance after the avalanche.[14] In total, the search and rescue team included nine Sherpas and three foreigners.[12]

The 2014 disaster is the second-deadliest disaster in Everest's history, only superseded by avalanches that struck the southern side of the mountain the following year, on 25 April 2015, triggered by a magnitude 7.8 earthquake in Nepal.

Reactions[edit]

Rippel reported "everyone is shaken here at base camp". Some of the climbers immediately packed up their belongings and left.[1]

In addition to mandatory insurance policies paying USD$10,000 to guides' families, the Nepalese government announced compensation of Nepali Rs. 40,000 ($400) each as immediate relief to the victims' next of kin.[13][15] This government offering, which only covers funeral costs, angered Sherpas and was dismissed by the Nepal Mountaineering Association (NMA).[15] The NMA announced they would stop work in seven days' time if compensation of US$10,000 were not paid to families of the dead, injured and missing. They further demanded a memorial to the dead, the doubling of insurance coverage to $20,000 and government payment of medical bills.[16] According to unverified reports, 350 guides voted to suspend operations on Everest. Other reports said the guides agreed to unspecified "strong protests".[2]

On 21 April, eight of the dead were ceremoniously driven through Kathmandu and then cremated in a Buddhist religious ceremony.[2] On 22 April, the Sherpas announced they would not work on Everest for the rest of 2014 out of respect for the victims.[17] Tulsi Gurung said: "We had a long meeting this afternoon and we decided to stop our climbing this year to honour our fallen brothers. All Sherpas are united in this."[17] The fate of 334 climbing permits sold at $10,000 each is uncertain.[15] By 24 April, almost all expeditions had decided to abandon their climbing plans; the 600 mountaineers who were at Base Camp before the avalanche was down to 40 or 50.[11]

On 23 April, the Nepalese government announced it would give an additional 500,000 Nepali Rs. (approx. US$5,100) to the families of the dead climbers.[18] Although these funds started to be paid in December 2014, it was reported in January 2015 that the bereaved Sherpa families were further angered because the money could only be obtained if they presented documentation in Kathmandu, which is impossible for many of those who live in the Khumbu region.[19]

Discovery cancelled Ogwyn's planned BASE jump shortly after the ice avalanche struck, and announced it would broadcast a documentary about the tragedy.[20][21] Entitled Everest Avalanche Tragedy, the 90-minute programme was shown on 4 May. The company also said it would make a donation to the American Himalayan Foundation Sherpa Family Fund, a charity supporting the families of those who died in the disaster.[20]

Following the accident, the NMA president Ang Tsering Sherpa proposed installing avalanche-prevention barriers similar to those found above European ski resorts.[11] He said: "We should ... adopt some precautionary measure – learning from [how] mountains [are managed] in developed countries where they adopt measures to avoid avalanches by putting some kind of wood or some concrete so that it helps make it safe.”.[11] It is very doubtful however if any defensive structures are feasible for events of this size.

The 2015 documentary Sherpa explores reactions to the avalanche after filmmakers were on location when it occurred.[22]

Effects and aftermath[edit]

Years in Review Summary
Year Summiters Reference(s)
2012 547 [23]
2013 658 [24]
2014 106 [25]
2015 0 [26]
2016 641 [27]

Post-disaster ascents in 2014[edit]

The first post-avalanche ascent of Mount Everest via the South Col route was on 23 May 2014, by the Chinese businesswoman Wang Jing, together with five Sherpas.[28][29] Her ascent sparked controversy, as she bypassed the Khumbu Icefall by helicopter, which took her to 21,000 feet;[29] this decision was made because the 2014 ropes and ladders had been removed.[28] She made her ascent without new rope lines, and beyond the usual 14:00 cut-off time, and made her descent in the dark.[28] Tamding Sherpa, the leader of the team that Wang was planning to use before her original expedition was called off as a result of the disaster, stated that he considered her ascent to be "cheating".[29]

Changes in 2015[edit]

As a result of the dangers of the normal route up the left side of the icefall, the Nepali authorities announced in February 2015 that a new route, up the centre of the icefall, would be followed instead.[30] According to the director of the Nepali government’s Department of Tourism, Tulasi Prasad Gautam, “In response to the last year’s avalanche we are trying to make Everest climbing a little safer by avoiding the old route.”[30]

In addition, the insurance for each Sherpa in 2015 will be $15,000 rather than the previous $11,000.[31]

People killed at Everest[edit]

16 people died in the ice avalanche, in addition to three more in other accidents that season for a total of 19.[32][32][33][34]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ellen Barry; Graham Bowlet (18 April 2014). "Deadliest Day: Sherpas Bear Everest's Risks". The New York Times. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d Gopal Sherma (21 April 2014). "As Nepali sherpa families cremate Everest victims, anger grows". Reuters. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  3. ^ a b c d Burke, Jason; Rauniyar, Ishwar (18 April 2014). "Mount Everest avalanche leaves at least 12 Nepalese climbers dead". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  4. ^ a b c "Twelve Dead in Mount Everest Avalanche". Daily Telegraph. Australia. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  5. ^ a b c Krakauer, Jon (21 April 2014). "Death and Anger on Everest". The New Yorker. Retrieved 22 April 2014. Of the twenty-five men hit by the falling ice, sixteen were killed, all of them Nepalis working for guided climbing teams. 
  6. ^ "Himalayan Experience » Expeditions » » Everest South Side » Newsletters » Everest 2014". himalayanexperience.com. 
  7. ^ Arnette, Alan. "Everest 2014: Everest Nepal Officially Closed: The Big Picture". alanarnette.com. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  8. ^ a b "Everest avalanche kills at least 12 Sherpa guides". BBC News. 18 April 2014. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  9. ^ Arnette, Alan. "Everest 2014: Avalanche Near Camp 1-Sherpa Deaths:Update 7". alanarnette.com. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 
  10. ^ Kelley McMillan (15 October 2014). "Measuring Everest's Monster Avalanche". National Geographic News. Retrieved 4 January 2015. 
  11. ^ a b c d Burke, Jason (26 April 2014). "Nepalese official calls for avalanche barriers on Everest in wake of disaster". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 April 2014. 
  12. ^ a b c "Everest avalanche: Search mission called off citing 'too much risk'". Kantipur Publications. 20 April 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 
  13. ^ a b "12+ Trekkers killed Avalanche hits Mt. Everest Base Camp in Nepal". IANS. news.biharprabha.com. Retrieved 18 April 2014. 
  14. ^ Fleming Jr, Mike (18 April 2014). "'Everest' Movie Crew OK After Tragic Avalanche". deadline.com. Retrieved 20 April 2014. 
  15. ^ a b c Douglas, Ed (20 April 2014). "Everest Sherpas divided over call to halt climbs after fatal avalanche". The Guardian. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  16. ^ "Nepal guides demand avalanche compensation – Central & South Asia". Al Jazeera English. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  17. ^ a b "Sherpas abandon Everest climbing season after deadly avalanche". The Guardian. 22 April 2014. Retrieved 22 April 2014. 
  18. ^ "Govt to provide Rs 500,000 each to bereaved families". Republica. 23 April 2014. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  19. ^ Pert, Charlotte (4 January 2015). "Sherpa families angry and fearful eight months on from Everest disaster". The Guardian. Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  20. ^ a b Patrick Kevin Day (24 April 2014). "Discovery to air 'Everest Avalanche Tragedy' doc in May". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 24 April 2014. 
  21. ^ "Everest jump called off after avalanche". The Guardian. 21 April 2014. Retrieved 21 April 2014. 
  22. ^ Utichi, Joe (24 November 2015). "'Sherpa' Doc Director Jennifer Peedom On Filming Through Everest Tragedy & Giving The Sherpas A Voice". Deadline. Retrieved 25 March 2016. 
  23. ^ "Everest Maxed Out". ngm.nationalgeographic.com. Retrieved 29 May 2016. 
  24. ^ "Everest 2013: Season Recap: Summits, Records and Fights". alanarnette.com. Retrieved 29 May 2016. 
  25. ^ "Everest 2014: Season Summary - A Nepal Tragedy". alanarnette.com. Retrieved 29 May 2016. 
  26. ^ Peter Holley (12 January 2016). "The Washington Post - For the first time in four decades, nobody made it to the top of Mount Everest last year". washingtonpost.com. Retrieved 29 May 2016. 
  27. ^ "Everest by the Numbers: 2018 Edition". 18 December 2017. 
  28. ^ a b c "Woman Whose Post-Avalanche Everest Ascent Sparked Outrage Defends Her Feat". 6 August 2014. 
  29. ^ a b c Nelson, Dean (26 May 2014). "First climber to scale Everest this year accused of cheating". Telegraph. Retrieved 2 June 2014. 
  30. ^ a b Burke, Jason (19 February 2015). "Everest climbers to follow new route after last year's disaster". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 February 2015. 
  31. ^ Cadwalladr, Carole (12 April 2015). "Everest: is it right to go back to the top?". The Observer. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  32. ^ a b "Everest 2014: Season Summary – A Nepal Tragedy". 9 June 2014. 
  33. ^ [1]
  34. ^ "Himalayan Database". 

External links[edit]