Lessons learned through adversity: A look back on the Everest avalanche tragedy

For many, mountaineering is not a sport that is taken lightly. An expedition takes intensive training, detailed planning and teams have to be prepared for anything to happen.

In April this year, Thuraya, its service partner, Applied Satellite Technology Systems US (AST Systems) and reseller, SatPhoneCity, sponsored the Madison Mountaineering climbing team with mobile satellite communications equipment on their expedition to the summit of Mount Everest. The team received a Thuraya IP satellite broadband terminal as well as airtime service for their expedition.

Thuraya’s satellite equipment enabled the team to receive detailed weather forecast reports as they planned their climbing strategy.  The weather forecasts provided the ability to gauge wind speeds and other atmospheric conditions to determine a favorable summit attempt. This "weather window" was crucial as it only happens for a few days each year and climbers must be ready to make the attempt when it happens. In addition to planning, the team also used Thuraya IP to communicate with family, friends, and their online fans through regular updates on their progress.

Highly experienced, the six-person Madison Mountaineering expedition started well. Team member, American high altitude climber and wing-suit explorer, Joby Ogywn had planned to execute a jump from the summit of Mt. Everest with a wing-suit flight down to base camp while other members would climb both Mt. Everest and Mt. Lhotse.

Sadly, on April 18 tragedy struck. While preparing the route up Mount Everest for the throng of commercial climbers, 16 Nepalese guides tragically lost their lives to a deadly avalanche. The incident is considered to be the most deadly mountaineering accident to have ever occurred on the world's highest peak. The Nepalese guides were in the process of carrying tents, food, ropes and other supplies to stock the camps higher on the mountain, ahead of the main climbing activity that would follow later that month.

The avalanche occurred at around 6:45 am (0100 GMT) at an altitude of about 5,800 meters (19,000 feet) in an area known as the "popcorn field," which lies on the route through the treacherous Khumbu icefall. Assisted by rescue helicopters, teams of climbers searched for survivors, with at least seven people plucked alive from the ice and snow.

“In the wake of the worst mountaineering disaster ever, the Madison Mountaineering team was able to communicate with the outside world using reliable satellite internet access with the Thuraya IP. This allowed the team to be very effective in communicating the rescue and recovery efforts as documented in the Discovery Channel’s program Everest Avalanche Tragedy,” said Garrett Madison, President and Co-Founder of Madison Mountaineering.

Unfortunately, three of the team’s climbing Sherpa were tragically killed in the avalanche. For Garrett and others involved in the rescue and recovery, simply reaching the site of the accident proved to be harrowing as they too had to climb through the icefall. During their ascent, they helped recover as many people as they could. The tragedy was deeply affecting and, in the end, the expedition was cancelled and the members headed home.

AST Systems’, Vice President, Robert Lorenzana extended his condolences, “We are genuinely distressed and saddened by this tragedy. Having connectivity with the Thuraya IP enabled the Madison Mountaineering team and other survivors to reach out to get help quickly.”

“For users who work in remote areas or have a taste for adventure outside the beaten track, we recommend that they use a Thuraya satellite phone or even satellite broadband terminal which enables connectivity beyond terrestrial reach.  Thuraya’s mobile satellite services are an excellent way of staying connected and protected while working or travelling in remote areas,” he added.

For more information on AST Systems, visit: www.ast-systems.us.com
 

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