Home automation demo swept away in Mount Everest quake

May 7, 2015
Technology engineer caught in avalanche at base camp had hoped to control home systems from atop world's highest peak

What started out as an expedition to demonstrate the reliability of Z-Wave technology turned into one of the most hair-raising experiences that veteran mountain climber Mariusz Malkowski has ever been through in his travels scaling some of the highest peaks around the globe. On the morning of April 25, Malkowski was sitting inside his tent at base camp on Mount Everest when a massive avalanche, triggered by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake, swept down the mountainside.

Malkowski initially set out to climb Mount Everest in early April as part of the FIBARO Mount Everest Challenge which was supposed to highlight the capabilities of FIBARO and other Z-Wave powered devices from the earth’s highest summit. Before the earthquake, Malkowski made it all the way to Camp 2 – at an altitude of 21,000 feet - with all of his equipment in preparation for continuing his climb to the summit.

“This is what people normally do,” explained Malkowski, a 40-year-old technical services manager at Sigma Designs, which is part of the 300-member Z-Wave Alliance.   “When you get to base camp you rest for a couple of days and then you go on a rotation. It is also a good acclimation process to go slowly. So you go to Camp 1, people normally sleep in Camp 1 and then go back to base camp and they go again to Camp 1, Camp 2, etc. I felt so great that I just decided to continue, the weather was good and everything was hunky dory and at that time I decided to move all of my stuff to Camp 2 and I slept there. The next morning I came down (to base camp).”

As fate would have it, however, Malkowski would not get the opportunity to finish his journey as two days later the earthquake and subsequent avalanche struck.

“Naturally, because it was 10 o’clock in the morning, it was after breakfast and we all came outside to see what was going on. I knew right away it was an earthquake because everything was shaking pretty badly,” said Malkowski recounting the experience. “Nobody was expecting what happened next. I heard a loud noise and a big piece of mountain came down. Fortunately for everybody in the base camp, it was not as much snow as it was wind. Once it was over, there was about an inch or two of snow on me, it wasn’t much, but the sheer amount of pressure and speed of the wind took tents and heavy things, such as three- and four-foot long boulders.”

Right before the avalanche, Malkowski said he crawled out of his tent into a little dip in the glacier where he laid down and waited for it to pass. “I saw objects flying by my tent. One of my equipment drums just flew by me, so if there was someone sitting there or waiting there they would get hit and you don’t know what could happen,” he added.  

Malkowski said that he was lucky enough to be in the northern part of the camp as the main part of the avalanche hit the middle part of the camp the hardest. He described the avalanche as being a mile or so in diameter.

“We only lost a couple of tents, but the middle part of base camp was totally leveled. There was nothing standing,” said Malkowski.

In the immediate aftermath, Malkowski said he checked on the safety of those in his immediate vicinity, after which he and few friends went to help out in the medical tent, which was located several hundred yards away.

“We started bringing people to safety and making sure they were comfortable. If their injuries were not severe, we would leave them in their tents and cover them with sleeping bags and all of that good stuff to make sure they were comfortable. We would also help bring people in that needed attention right away – people with internal injuries, head injuries, etc.,” explained Malkowski.

According to published reports, at least 18 climbers were killed as a result of the avalanche. Malkowski said that many more people sustained injuries ranging from lacerations to broken bones. Malkowski, who last year scaled China’s Cho Oyu, the sixth-highest mountain in the world, as part of another home automation demonstration, said that this is the biggest avalanche he has been through in his time climbing mountains.

“I have been through a couple of avalanches and you get those while you climb and you hope that they are not big. This one was just humongous,” he said. “The base camp itself is home to about 700 western climbers and probably twice as many support people, so you can think of it as a decent size village. In moments like that, there is not that much you can do.”

Malkowski credits his sponsors for helping him to make it out Nepal and back to the U.S. so quickly unlike many of his fellow climbers, many of whom are still stuck in the country, much of which is in shambles. Despite the harrowing ordeal, Malkowski said he won’t be deterred from returning to Mount Everest in the future.  

“In a year or two I would like to complete the challenge. We talked with sponsors already and we think it would be good thing to come back,” he said. “I will still climb. I may not go back to Everest right away, I may go somewhere else for a year or two, who knows, but I would like to go back to Everest one day.” 

About the Author

Joel Griffin | Editor-in-Chief, SecurityInfoWatch.com

Joel Griffin is the Editor-in-Chief of SecurityInfoWatch.com, a business-to-business news website published by Endeavor Business Media that covers all aspects of the physical security industry. Joel has covered the security industry since May 2008 when he first joined the site as assistant editor. Prior to SecurityInfoWatch, Joel worked as a staff reporter for two years at the Newton Citizen, a daily newspaper located in the suburban Atlanta city of Covington, Ga.