• April 29, 2016

Tragedy on Everest Remembered in Pictures

Patrick Witty

A year ago photographer Roberto Schmidt stared at a wall of snow, took three photos, dove into a tent, and nearly died. On assignment for Agence France-Presse, Schmidt was at Base Camp on Mount Everest on April 25, 2015, the day that a disastrous earthquake and ensuing avalanche struck. After being partially buried in snow, Schmidt was pulled from his tent by a Sherpa guide and proceeded to make photographs that were published all over the world. Those photos were recently awarded the prestigious World Press Photo award. Speaking to him recently, I asked him to reflect back on that tragic day—and on life since then.

Picture of rescuers helping the injured at the basecamp of Everest after an avalanche
Rescuers use stretchers to carry the injured at Everest Base Camp after an earthquake-triggered avalanche crashed through parts of the camp, killing 18 people.

PATRICK WITTY: It’s been a year—is the memory still vivid?

ROBERTO SCHMIDT: The sounds and feelings of being approached by a monster of nature, being tossed around without any control, can still be very vivid. Probably just as scary as the incredible silence in the immediate aftermath. However, I think that memory does fade with time, and that may be a good thing. It’s probably the way the human mind deals with strong, shocking memories.

Picture of an expedition guide searching through flattened tents, looking for avalanche survivors
Expedition guide Pasang Sherpa searches through flattened tents looking for survivors after an avalanche flattened parts of Everest Base Camp.

PATRICK: I can’t imagine. Do you feel lucky?

ROBERTO: I feel incredibly lucky. Really, what are the odds of surviving an avalanche? It’s sad because at least 18 people died in the avalanche that fateful day, but only one person in our small party (a porter known as Bhanja) was hurt bad enough that he had to be airlifted out of base camp. He is now well and back to normal. We were very lucky indeed; others were not.

Picture of Sherpas and other climbers trying to help an injured porter after an avalanche at Everest's basecamp
Sherpas and other climbers try to help an injured porter moments after the avalanche struck Base Camp. The twin quakes that struck Nepal on April 25 and May 12 killed more than 8,600 people.
Picture of rescuers carrying an injured Sherpa in a vast, white landscape after he was injured in an avalanche
Rescuers carry a Sherpa injured by the avalanche that flattened parts of Everest Base Camp. Victims of the avalanche were airlifted out of the camp.

PATRICK: And your camera?

ROBERTO: The photo gear was, for the most part, spared from any damage, which gave me the chance to document the aftermath of the tragedy. The gear was encased in a block of tightly packed snow. Maybe that kept it from being damaged.

Picture of a rescuer tending to a Sherpa who was injured by the April 2015 Avalanche in Nepal
Rescuers tend to a Sherpa injured by the avalanche.

PATRICK: Has your perspective on what you do changed?

ROBERTO: I am a photojournalist, and that is what I have done for over 20 years. Part of our job is to go to places where others don’t go or can’t go and tell the true story of what transpires in the clearest and most honest way. I am still committed to … doing my job as best I can while keeping risks at a minimum. In that sense I am pretty much the same person.

Picture of tents held down by rocks covering bodies of people who were killed in the 2015 avalanche in Nepal
Rocks are kept over flattened tents at Base Camp to cover the bodies of some of the people who died in the avalanche a day earlier.

However, I think it is impossible to remain unchanged by an event like this. Only time will show what real effects this experience had on me. For now, I take stock of weaknesses and strengths that came through that day so that I can do better personally and professionally as I move forward.

The Khumbu region of northeastern Nepal is a magnificently beautiful, soulful, and peaceful place. I was not able to return to the area this spring due to work schedule issues but plan to go back very soon to keep documenting the amazing region and its resilient, hard-working and vastly underpaid group of Nepalese guides that make it possible for outsiders to come and enjoy the wonder of nature that the Himalayas are.

Picture of Buddhist prayer flags in the foreground and rescue helicopter taking off from basecamp in the background
Buddhist prayer flags flutter in the wind near tents as a rescue helicopter takes off from Everest Base Camp. Rescuers faced a race against time to find survivors.

See Roberto Schmidt’s winning story on World Press Photo.

Learn more about the devastating 2015 earthquake that caused this avalanche.

There are 9 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Michael Canfield
    June 19, 2016

    The mountains always have the upper hand. Death and destruction occurs at the whim of weather, the head of the day, something frozen becoming less so and gravity calls upon the thawing weakness to unleash tons of rock hard snowy masses upon the unsuspecting. My heart and thoughts can only send to smallest spark of my humanity and respect and love for what they do and suffer throught.

  2. Bailey
    May 17, 2016

    Both the photos and article were amazing. I was touched by this story and hope to follow in the footsteps of both the photojournalist and the journalist. Thank you for the inspiration.

  3. Ilham
    May 15, 2016

    Semoga kita yang masih hidup dapat mengambil hikmah dari kejadian tersebut.

  4. lia kounani
    May 6, 2016

    nice fhoto

  5. Ilani
    May 4, 2016

    These pictures are amazing, I’m only 19 but I’m really trying to become an influential photojournalist. Even more motivation.

  6. Silas S
    April 30, 2016

    Brilliant pictures documenting the preciousness of lives of those aiding a few others who obsessively and compulsively desire to be on top of the world for some reason or the other.

  7. Kiersten
    April 30, 2016

    Photojournalist: A person who is able to snap a couple photos, dive into their tent as tragedy strikes, face near death, get dragged out of a collapsed tent, and continue snapping photos.

  8. Dariusz
    April 29, 2016

    I admire these people for their great passion.

  9. aastha
    April 29, 2016

    not many people have the endurance to beat death congratulation for doing that i admire the work you do.respect man

Add Your Comments

All fields required.