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

Gulf for Good: Making a difference through adventure challenges

This month we sat down with Gulf for Good’s Governor in Dubai, Tricia Evans, to catch up on their activities. Thuraya has been a regular supporter of Gulf for Good, a Dubai-based charity organization for a few years now. We learned more about how G4G’s programs helps both its participants and its beneficiaries.

October was a packed month for the G4G team, with two separate teams embarking on eight-day challenges in Mongolia and Africa. The objectives of our cause are two-fold; to motivate participants to push their personal limits through extraordinary journeys while having fun and also make a positive change on the lives of underprivileged children.

G4G works with individual participants as well as organizations on adventure challenges which support worthy charities in the same country of the challenge. We provide trip and route planning, equipment, ensuring that travel conditions are safe and that there is always a senior member on the trip to oversee activities. We facilitate these challenges by helping participants prepare for their journey with endurance as well as survival skills training. Furthermore, each G4G adventure challenge is led by a challenge representative, who is well supported by a highly experienced local teams of ground handlers and local guides. Additionally, we provide our teams with mobile satellite communications equipment from Thuraya that helps them stay connected while they are trekking though terrain with no terrestrial connectivity.

The recently concluded Wilds of Mongolia challenge was completed with great success. Participants helped New Choice Charity by raising sponsorships that will be used to build a children’s health center. The Children’s Centre will be built 30km outside Ulaanbaatar in the Gachuurt Village and will provide underprivileged children with long term medical treatment and care. The Centre will also provide a learning and recreational environment for children with down’s syndrome. Participants on this challenge tested their mettle in a series of activities that included trekking, cycling and horse riding through Mongolia’s spectacular mountain passes, dramatic gorges and sparkling lakes in the fascinating land of Genghis Khan. I was part of the Mongolia challenge, my eighth life-changing journey.

In October, we also organized the Kilimanjaro challenge in Africa for one of Dubai’s leading media organizations, OmnicomMediaGroup. The OMG corporate challenge supports two charities, working for children’s welfare and education in Tanzania and PalestineThe quest to conquer ‘Kili’ (as she is affectionately known) or Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa and fourth highest of the Seven Summits is one of our most popular challenge. Kilimanjaro is considered the tallest freestanding mountain in the world, rising 15,100 feet (4,600 meters) from base to summit. It is also the most prominent mountain in Africa. The team took the Marangu route on the eastern side of the mountains, where we trekked through dramatically varying terrains including rain forests, meadows, moorlands and ‘The Saddle’ – a high altitude, 5km wide desert. The journey took us to the renowned Gilman’s Point (5,681m) and the glaciated summit at Uhuru Peak (5,895m).

These adventure challenges are often described as a life changing journey by participants who stretch their limits; pushing themselves beyond their comfort zone and most importantly enjoying the challenge and experience, as can we see from the pictures that they share regularly.  Even better, almost 60 percent of our participants return to do another challenge.

Often because of the nature of the challenge, the challengers are cut off from civilization and modern amenities like the internet and the phone for most of their journey. Mobile satellite communication becomes the best way of ensuring that the group is connected with the G4G ground teams in case of any emergency. This communication channel also acts as a back-up for teams to send regular updates and pictures to the G4G team in Dubai. Communicating via satellite provides us with a sense security and peace of mind; knowing that we reach out touch if needed.

Working in G4G has been an amazing experience. Helping people overcome their personal challenges as well as working with charities has been highly rewarding and fulfilling. It is an experience that I recommend people undertake at least once in their life.

For any budding participants who would like to take on a G4G Challenge, I recommend joining our social media pages and attending our events. All the information about the challenges and events is available on our website. Review the information with your family, friends and colleagues. Who knows, they may want to come along for a life-changing journey for good cause! You can also sponsor a friend who has signed up for a challenge to help them meet their target. And if you would like to see more of our adventures, become our social media support and share our stories via our Facebook page.