By David Bauder Associated Press
NEW YORK — With its dreams of televising a daredevil’s attempt to jump off Mount Everest over, the Discovery network now says it will instead make a documentary on last week’s avalanche that killed more than a dozen mountain guides.
Discovery President Eileen O’Neill said the network hopes to air the film within the next few weeks. Discovery will encourage viewers to donate to a relief fund for families of the Sherpa guides killed in Everest’s most deadly disaster.
“It gives us a sense of responsibility because we are there and have the resources and wherewithal to tell the story,” O’Neill said. “We want to have the right tribute.”
Several of the Sherpas killed were helping prepare for American Joby Ogwyn’s planned jump from the summit in a wingsuit. Discovery planned to show the stunt on television worldwide on May 11. Thirteen bodies were recovered from the avalanche at the mountain’s treacherous Khumbu Icefall, with three people still missing.
Ogwyn said in an interview Tuesday that while he agreed with the decision to end his project, he hopes to jump off Everest sometime in the future.
Sherpa teams were preparing the climb for several expeditions, including Ogwyn’s team and employees of Peacock Productions, the NBC-affiliated firm that was producing Discovery’s telecast. Discovery announced on Sunday, two days after the avalanche, that it was abandoning the attempted jump.
Discovery pulled the plug both out of sensitivity toward the Sherpa community and an inability to assess the stability of the mountain post-avalanche, O’Neill said.
“The success rate of such an ambitious project that needed to have everything go right was greatly compromised,” she said. “It was a collection of issues that really gave us no choice.”
A climb to the summit probably would have been impossible even if Discovery had wanted to go forward: Most surviving Sherpa guides have since decided to leave Everest. Considering the climbing season at the world’s highest peak is generally confined to May because of weather, that will severely curtail expeditions.
There was some initial confusion about whether Ogwyn was onboard with Discovery’s decision. He tweeted on Sunday, before the cancellation was announced, that “today is a brighter day. We are staying on the mountain to honor our friends and complete our project.”
Ogwyn said he was simply trying to set an example by showing a positive attitude to his expedition team and the Sherpas.
“I just wanted to support them,” he said. “If my message was interpreted in a different way, that was not my intention.”
Ogwyn said conditions on Everest were more dangerous this year than he had seen in the past. He heard and witnessed the avalanche and didn’t think it was that bad at first, because he had seen avalanches there that were louder and dislodged more ice and snow.
He remained on the mountain to help in the recovery effort for the bodies. Ogwyn said he’ll also participate in Discovery’s documentary, and he wants it to tell the story of Sherpas and how they are essential to Everest climbs.