Jackson cameraman details deadly day on Everest

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JACKSON, Wyo. (AP) - When John Griber heard the roaring sound of an avalanche at around 6:30 a.m. April 18 he wasn’t too concerned.

Griber was in his tent at Base Camp on Mount Everest. At almost 18,000 feet in the Himalayas, crashing rocks and minor avalanches were routine.

“Honestly, it sounded like just a distant avalanche,” the 48-year-old Jackson Hole resident said. “We hear a lot of avalanches throughout the night. It didn’t sound like anything out of the ordinary.”

But there was nothing ordinary, minor or routine about that particular avalanche. A hanging glacier had fallen from the west shoulder of Everest and sent huge blocks of ice tumbling down the treacherous Khumbu Icefall.

At the time of the avalanche, Sherpas were fixing ropes and ladders along the icefall for their climbing customers.

When the avalanche settled, pandemonium ensued.

“Nobody really knew who was alive or what was going on,” Griber told the Jackson Hole News & Guide (http://bit.ly/QF1uij). “I talked to another Base Camp manager who was on the radio with his Sherpa. All of the sudden he’s on the radio talking, hears screams and then the radio just went quiet.”

The reality of what had happened began to sink in. Griber grabbed a couple gallons of water, food and shovels to assist the rescuers who were already at the icefall.

The rescue mission quickly turned to a recovery mission. Sixteen bodies were buried under the ice and snow. Thirteen were recovered.

A helicopter conducted 13 long-line retrievals of the dead and transported the bodies to Base Camp one at a time.

The remaining Sherpas, guides and rescuers made their way back to Base Camp after recovery work ceased. Sherpas were hysterical and overcome with the terror of the tragedy.

“They just kept saying things such as ‘Oh, my brother, my brother’s dead,’” Griber said. “Or ‘My friend had just been married, and he has a 3-month-old child.’ We just cried the entire day.”

Griber never thought he’d find himself at the scene of the deadliest day in Everest history.

He was on his ninth trip to Nepal as a cameraman, hoping to record a stunt for NBC and the Discovery Channel.

Griber was supposed to be one of two cameramen on the summit of Everest when adventurer Joby Ogwyn leaped off the top in a wingsuit in a made-for-TV special.

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