KATHMANDU: The United States-based Travel Channel launched a special six-part event premiering of the Everest Air on Wednesday. Each hour-long episode provides the real life experiences on rescues and recoveries in one of the most inaccessible areas on the surface of the Earth.
In an exclusive interview with THT Online, the documentary’s Executive Producer, Anthony Gordon, shared that his film captures the exhilarating encounters and unrivaled majesty on the world’s highest peak, where the first ever rescue team saved 52 lives in the death zone.
“So this is where the dream ends and reality starts,” Anthony says, “We set a world precedent for the incredible Sherpas of Nepal.”
Why have you chosen to go for the Everest Air?
When I was filming in the region three years ago, I sat with one of my Sherpas and asked a simple question: “So, what are your plans for the next year?” He replied, “I think, Anthony Sir, next year, I could die as the mountains are becoming very dangerous.”
I was shocked and we sat down to chat just above Namche. It became very clear that there were basic medical facilities and helicopter transports though there were not organised and trained rescue and recovery teams in the region, let alone on the Everest and the surrounding peaks.
So, there and then, I decided to dedicate my spare time to create the World’s First Sherpa Rescue Team. It took three years and many trips back to Kathmandu before we were in a position to make it happen. With exceptional work and support from Tashi Lakpa Sherpa (Seven Summits) and Ram Nepal (Alpine Rescue Service), we were ready to look at how to get the project funded.
Since I had owned and run a television production company (Nothin But Shorts International) for 18 years, I decided to formulate a business plan to pitch to global television networks which may be interested in making a TV show about the World’s First Sherpa Rescue Team and hence getting the funds to make it happen.
I was then approached by the BCII TV in Los Angeles, who were looking to make a show in the Himalayas and I collaborated with them so they could pitch it to the television networks in the USA. In February 2016, they were successful with the Travel Channel USA and the project commenced the following month (March).
The Show was then called the Everest Air.
How was it done?
As I had already put three years of work into the planning and operational logistics side of the project, it enabled us to put it together very quickly. We chose our production crew and equipment and headed to Kathmandu. I did, however, make it very clear. Our Sherpa team was to manage everything above the Base Camp including all rescue operations as well as filming for the TV series.
We took 12 days to trek from Lukla to the EBC and within this time, we trained our team on camera operations and the best way to film a global network television programme. They were to become the World’s First Sherpa Rescue Team as well as the World First High Altitude Sherpa Television Production Team. The skills that Michael Murphy, Ben Southall and James Souter (some of our senior production crew) gave the Sherpa Team skills that otherwise they never would have obtained, and skills they can now carry into other careers. They were rescuers as well as cameramen.
In addition to the production team, we had an exceptional high altitude medic Jeff Evans, myself (Anthony Gordon) as the Base Camp Rescue Manager (As well as Show Co-Creator with Bud Brutsman of BCII TV and Executive Producer) and a team of six high altitude pilots, of which two were from the US and one from New Zealand.
What is the crux of the Everest Air story?
It is a basic story. We received emergency requests from not only the Mount Everest, but all the surrounding region and peaks there. From there, we coordinated our rescue team and pilots and conducted evacuation, recovery, medical treatment and emergency care. We focused on not only Western Climbers, but Nepali Sherpas, porters and locals within the Kumbu Valley and region. In all, we saved 52 lives this season (Spring 2016).
The World First Television series is 6X1-hour episodes. We will be conducting special screenings in Kathmandu between November 26 and 30 this year.
How can it make any difference to the existing mountaineering scenario?
What we achieved was to train and deliver very skilled Sherpa mountain specialists on the world’s highest mountain. These are skills which I am continuing to develop through my own company initiatives so that the knowledge we pass on to the Sherpa Team can then be taught to others and eventually work towards developing a safety team on every mountain and health and safety officers on every expedition. This will in effect make the Himalayas one of the safest climbing regions on the Earth in relation to human resources.
From here, we want to pass knowledge (to the Sherpa Teams) rather than pass handouts, so that this knowledge can be given to others and in a short timeframe teach a good level of health and wellbeing to the villages. We will put in place what we learnt from this season so that our teaching and supplies can drastically reduce the level of illness in the mountain communities.
What is your individual experience while being for months on the mountain?
I was actually based at the Everest Base Camp for the season and our Sherpa Rescue Team did all the management and discussions with expeditions. I simply facilitated rescue operations and forwarded diagnosis that I passed onto Jeff Evans, our medical specialist who was based in Lukla.
What I did experience was having a very firsthand view of what causes most of the minor and major illnesses and injuries both in the villages and on the mountains. It is this knowledge that I am working towards building training and resources delivery so the level of health and wellbeing can improve dramatically and very quickly.
What would you say about Sherpas and their roles up there?
The Sherpa Rescue Team had the most exceptional individuals that I have ever worked with on the mountains. They saved many lives and filmed some of the most incredible alpine TV sequences ever. As for the Sherpa in general within the alpine regions, I cannot speak generally.
What I do know is that those I met were very keen for more health and safety knowledge that they could not only apply to their expedition members, but also take back to benefit their villages, friends and families. I believe there is a big place for Sherpas and all expedition staff education. There is a need and a demand, but no resources in Nepal to provide this. I am for changing it.
It is not charity, but responsible education to improve climbing and living standards across the country.
So what’s next?
We are working for the season II of Everest Air as well as my own initiatives to create and deliver a health and wellbeing programme via Seven Summits to all Sherpas and climbing staff in the region.
Do you have anything more to share about?
It was my five-year goal to create the World’s First Sherpa Rescue Team. It took just three years. The reason for this was the incredible efforts of the entire team. We hope to gain more acceptance from the climbing community that ventures into Nepal every season as well as broadening our reach to rescue those in need, as far as our resources can reach.
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