In "Disposable Man" (August 2013), Grayson Schaffer's story about the risks Sherpas face helping paying clients up Everest, we wanted to know the fatality rate of ethnic Sherpas working on Everest. And we also wanted to answer another question: How did this rate compare to traditionally dangerous industries such as commercial fishing, wilderness aviation (a.k.a. bush pilots), and even military combat.
To do that, we used the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics' formula for fatality rates per 100,000 full-time equivalents. Determining fatalities was easy: the Himalayan Database keeps excellent records. But figuring out how many hours Sherpas work each season took some legwork—Sherpas don't punch in and out like miners do, and employers aren't paying them by the hour. But we consulted with guides, outfitters, and climbers to arrive at numbers we felt gave a fair picture of just how dangerous the job was (the results: far more dangerous than being a soldier in Iraq from 2003 to 2007). There was only one hitch: to be consistent with the Bureau of Labor Statistic's numbers, we only calculated the number for fatalities from 2000 to 2010. And fatalities have been rising since then. If we calculate the fatality rate for the past decade, the numbers become much more distressing.
Annual Fatality Rates by Profession
(Deaths per 100,000 full-time equivalents)
- Miners (2000-2010): 25
- Commercial Fisherman (2000-2010): 124
- Alaskan Bush Pilots (1990-2009): 287
- U.S. military in Iraq (2003-2007): 335
- Everest Sherpas (2000-2010): 1,332
- Everest Sherpas (2004-2014): 4,053
The reason for the discrepancy is simple. From 2000 to 2010, only seven ethnic Sherpas died on the mountain. Since then, 21 Sherpas have perished, including the 16 who died in the avalanche yesterday.
Number of Sherpas Killed on Everest By Year
- 2014: 17
- 2013: 4
- 2012: 3
- 2011: 0
- 2010: 0
- 2009: 1
- 2008: 0
- 2007: 1
- 2006: 4
- 2005: 0
- 2004: 0
- 2003: 0
- 2002: 0
- 2001: 1
- 2000: 0
This year is not just the mountain's worst tragedy. It caps the worst three-year period in Everest history.