Cinematographer, Who Braved Everest With Specially Built IMAX Camera, Dies

david breashears everest cinematographer mountaineer dies

Mountaineer and cinematographer David Breashears, a pioneer in high altitude filmmaking who summited Mount Everest with a huge specially-built IMAX camera, has died.

Breashears, who broadcast the first-ever live footage from the top of the world’s highest mountain, passed away at the age of 68 at his home in Marblehead, Massachusetts on March 14.

A representative of Breashears’ family confirmed the death but said that the cause had not been determined.

“In his lifetime, David climbed to the summit of Mt. Everest five times, including an ascent with the IMAX camera in 1996,” his family says in a statement announcing his passing.

“He combined his passion for climbing and photography to become one of the world’s most admired adventure filmmakers.”

Breashears started his career as a high altitude mountaineer and climber. He began traveling to Nepal and the Himalayas in the early 1980s and reached the summit of Everest for the time in 1983.

According to The New York Times, by this time Breashears had developed a second career as a cinematographer, working with alpine-related feature films and documentaries.

It was on this first expedition to Everest in 1983 that he broadcast the first live television images from the peak’s summit.

Over his career, Breashears helped millions of people learn about Mount Everest through his films, photographs, and broadcasts.

But Breashears most famous ascent to the summit of Everest came in 1996. During this expedition, he and his team lugged a specially built IMAX camera, plus numerous rolls of film, up the mountain for the feature documentary Everest narrated by Liam Neeson.

The film was not only the first IMAX production from the peak but also became the highest-grossing IMAX documentary of all time.

However, Breashears’ trek to the summit to film the Everest documentary was a treacherous one. His team was among other expeditions trying to reach the summit at the time — more than 30 people in all.

Breashears and his team were filming when a blizzard struck the mountain on May 10, 1996, killing eight other climbers.

He and his team stopped filming to help the climbers and offered supplies to rescuers trying to locate stranded men — even though they were needed to complete the production.

The New York Times reports that Breashears worked on over 40 film projects during his career, including the 1997 movie Seven Years in Tibet starring Brad Pitt. Breashears smuggled a camera into the Tibetan capital of Lhasa where he ran the risk of arrest by the Chinese authorities.

In 2007, Breashears founded a nonprofit called GlacierWorks, a climate advocacy group to study and document the effects of climate change on the world’s glacial masses.

“With GlacierWorks, he used his climbing and photography experience to create unique records revealing the dramatic effects of climate change on the historic mountain range,” Breashears’ family says in a statement.

Breashers is survived by his son Finn Clark, his sister Lisa Breashears, and his brother Steve Breashears.

Image credits: Header photo licensed via YouTube/IMAX.