An adventurer who was at base camp when 16 sherpas lost their lives on April 18 said he will never forget the avalanche's harrowing moments.
Joby Ogwyn had been preparing to become the first person to ever leap off Mount Everest in a wingsuit for a Discovery Channel special, but the jump has been cancelled out of respect for those who lost their lives. Ogwyn was at base camp with an NBC camera crew there to shoot the special when the avalanche — the deadliest in the mountain's history — began on the treacherous Khumbu Icefall.
"It's something I'll never forget,'' Ogwyn told Savannah Guthrie on TODAY Tuesday. "It was probably the worst day of my life."
The crew captured footage of the aftermath of the disaster that is featured in an upcoming documentary, "Everest Avalanche Tragedy," that will air at 9 p.m. ET on Sunday on the Discovery Channel. The tragedy also effectively ended the climbing season on Mount Everest. Ogwyn was in his tent when he first heard the avalanche rumbling above.
"It was about 6:45 in the morning,'' he said. "I was awake, and I heard the avalanche from my tent. It didn't sound like one of the biggest ones I've ever heard, but I heard it coming from the icefall, so I unzipped and kind of looked, and I actually saw the avalanche come down and cover up everybody."
Avalanches are common in that area, so it was not immediately apparent how destructive this one would be. Ogwyn said it looked like a snake slowly moving down the mountain.
"At first I didn't know it was different,'' Ogwyn said. "Avalanches happen every day, all the time, and I just knew that it was different because it was coming from the icefall, and it sounded big enough to do some damage. Some of these things come from so high up they build up a lot of speed, and when I saw it cover up my guys and people I knew up there, I thought maybe they just kind of got the tail end of it, got dusted, but unfortunately it was worse than I thought."
The contents of the avalanche also made it more treacherous than other mountains'.
"It's not like an avalanche in Colorado for example, where it's that soft snow, kind of flaky snow,'' Ogwyn said. "This is massive, ton blocks of ice that when they hit, they explode like shrapnel, and when it buries somebody, it's like burying them in concrete."
Once he realized what was happening, Ogwyn and climbing partner Garrett Madison sprung into action.
"The first thing we needed to do was to try to figure out what had happened and get some communication with our sherpa, and very quickly the radios lit up and we could hear that there was chaos on the mountain,'' he said. "After about an hour we didn't hear anything from our guys."
Madison and Ogwyn "decided we would go up into the icefall. We knew that there were some guys that had survived, and we wanted to go up and we wanted to shake hands and hug every guy. We wanted to bring them food and water and just feel like they felt supported when they came down."
Ogwyn watched for more avalanche activity while Madison did his best to help those hit.
"Garrett actually is my hero,'' Ogwyn said. "He went up into the area where the avalanche happened and assisted. I kind of watched from below and tried to spot in case there were any other avalanches coming down."
Ogwyn could have easily been with the sherpas who were killed were it not for a last-minute decision to shoot more footage for the planned Discovery Channel special.
"I was very lucky,'' he said. "I really wanted to go up with my guys. That's how I normally do it — establish the camp and make everything right for the jump. One of the producers said, 'Why don't we shoot a couple things with the equipment?' and at the last second I said, 'Yeah, let's do it.' It saved my life and Garrett's life."