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Organizational Problem of Everest Tragedy of 1996

The tragedy of the mountain Everest refers to the events that occurred on May 11, 1996 and led to the mass death of climbers on the southern slope of Everest. Two expeditions at once – Mountain Madness and Adventure Consultants simultaneously began their ascent on May 10th. In total, there were thirty people in both expeditions. The May tragedy received wide publicity in the press and the mountaineering community, calling into question the expediency and moral aspects of the commercialization of Everest.

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The Organizational Problem of the Ascent

Conquering mountain heights exceeding eight thousand meters is always associated with risk, but its degree largely depends on how strictly the requirements for climbing participants are observed. Phoewhawm (2017) adds that “expeditions such as mountain climbing have time constraints, must deal with costs, rely on extensive planning and control, and take calculated risks” (p. 66). Among the reasons that resulted in the tragedy on Everest in May 1996, first of all, there are violations associated with the ascent schedule. In accordance with the plan outlined earlier, both groups, having started the ascent at midnight on May 10, were supposed to reach the mountain range at dawn. At 10am on May 11th, they should have arrived at the South Summit; however, due to a number of consecutive delays, the groups strayed from the schedule.

The main problem was related to the inaccurate time and resource management, which caused the whole plan of ascent to fail. According to Hällgren et al. (2018), “a breakdown in coordination of action and information facilitates the diffusion of multiple small errors in the decision-making process preceding an emergency” (p. 26). Thus, the main research question here is how exactly the delays affected the process of ascension and, ultimately, led to a tragedy.

The Chain of Events

Following the research question, the hypothesis is: due to the unprofessional attitude of the guides and constant delays, groups were not able to climb Everest safely. Moreover, the organizers of the ascent committed a gross violation of safety rules that day, as three groups went out at once to climb Everest. There was an excessive number of climbers on the slope, and a pandemonium arose before the last, most difficult section of the ascent. By a fatal coincidence, the two groups were delayed on the way from the upper camp to the summit due to poor preparation of the route by the Sherpas. The ascent schedule, which strictly regulated the time required to overcome each section of the slope, was immediately violated, because the Sherpas did not install the rope railings on the group’s path. When the groups got to the most critical site called the Hillary Step, they have already lost more than an hour there due to the accumulation of climbers from other groups. Poor managerial decisions of the organizers were the main reason behind the schedule delays and safety violations.

Testing of Hypotheses

The decisions of a leader can be crucial during a crisis, especially if the external conditions are against the team. Hällgren and Jacobson (2019) add that extreme contexts are usually associated with serious challenges. In the case of Everest tragedy of 1996, it is clear that poor management of the ascent led to a series of delays which ultimately became the main cause of the tragedy. It was, to some extent, the result of the commercialization of mountaineering, which began in the nineties. Structures appeared and quickly developed, aimed solely at extracting profit from the desire of customers to participate in conquering the peaks. For them, neither the level of training of guides, nor their age, nor their physical condition played a role. Clearly, the people who died during this event became the victims of intensive commercialization. There are multiple pieces of evidence in the case: the Sherpas did not provide safety ropes for the climbing course, climbers were not advised to take additional oxygen, and organizers mismanaged the tourist groups. One can apply this theory to any organization – when people start sacrificing safety and rules for the sake of profit, problems inevitably occur.

The boundaries that could be applied include specific tests and strict schedules to ensure that commercialization does not clash with safety. To prove that the hypotheses is correct, additional evidence from other cases where over-commercialization led to tragedy could be used – for example, the technogenic catastrophe of Bhopal. Moreover, a test can be designed for the same purpose: it should offer to evaluate how commercialization factored in various anthropogenic and other tragedies. Data for such test can be collected from the history of the world – the stories of Chernobyl, Three-Mile-Island, Sayano-Shushenskaya hydro power plant, Fukusima, and others. The case of Everest tragedy of 1996 clearly outlines the evidence needed for the test – poor managerial decisions, constant schedule issues, and the lack of professional expertise.

Possible Remedies

The tragedy could have been avoided or, at least, minimized if the organizers of the ascent put more effort into planning the event and providing professional support. The climbers should have been forced into following the schedule strictly, as the case evidences that delays were the main reason behind the unsuccessful climbing. Moreover, there was also the issue of overcrowdedness on the mountain, as three groups simultaneously began to climb it. Evidently, the organizers decided to maximize the profits with such an approach without regard for safety. Rak (2019) states that “Everest had transformed from an important climbing challenge into a deadly theater for amateur ambitions and capitalist greed” (p. 191). Overall, it can be concluded both the organizers and the guides should have implemented specific management strategies before and during the event to avoid the issues that have arose in the process.

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Hällgren, M., & Jacobsson, M. (2019). Using retrospective data to study extreme contexts: The case of impromptu teams. In SAGE Research Methods Cases. Web.

Hällgren, M., Rouleau, L., & de Rond, M. (2018). A matter of life or death: How extreme context research matters for management and Organization Studies. Academy of Management Annals, 12(1), 111–153. Web.

Phoewhawm, R. (2017). Team learning in the midst of strategy: A Sun Tzu and von Clausewitz perspective from the 1996 mount Everest disaster. SIU Journal of Management, 2(7), 64–89.

Resina, J. R., & Rak, J. (2019). The Afterlife of a Disaster. In Inscribed identities: Life writing as self-realization. essay, Routledge.

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