The Johanson Saga Starts
Perhaps it's the last
"undiscovered country." Perhaps it's more in vogue with adventurers
now than ever. Perhaps it's just because it's there. For some
reason, a lot of people decided to go south this winter -- all the
way to the South Pole. Without exception, they all ran into
Journeys to the South Pole aren't new. But in helicopters and
single-engine piston aircraft they are.
It began in early December, when Australian pilot Jon Johanson
flew his RV-4 over the South Pole on a flight from New Zealand to
Argentina. But he didn't have the fuel to make it all the way.
Instead of landing in South America, Johanson landed at the joint
US-New Zealand base in Antarctica, touching off an international
incident between those countries and his native land. Seems the
folks at McMurdo-Scott didn't want to give Johanson the fuel he
needed to either finish his flight or return to New Zealand. On
December 10th, we wrote:
Johanson may lose his airplane if cooler minds don't prevail at
McMurdo Station, where he remains at this hour without enough fuel
to fly home.
McMurdo Station is located on the southern end of Ross Island,
an island of volcanic origin approximately 45 miles wide and 45
miles long. Large Emperor and Adelie penguin rookeries and Skua
rookeries are located on the island--it is NOT the garden sport of
Johanson's unexpected landing has left him stranded with no fuel
to fly home... and McMurdo's policy is to NOT help out...
ostensibly to avoid "encouraging tourist flights" to the base. If
the airplane is left to the elements out there, he'll lose it,
that's for near-certain. It is a BRUTAL environment--even at this
time of year.
Vacher To The Rescue
Australian lawmakers pleaded with their American and New Zealand
counterparts to give up the fuel Johanson needed to get home. But
the folks at McMurdo refused. Finally it was up to another
adventurer who just days earlier aborted her plans for a South Pole
crossing to come to the rescue. Briton Polly Vacher had stocked
fuel at the base for her own flight. But after giving up because of
bad weather and (ironically) not enough fuel, Vacher donated her
avgas to Johanson.
'Polar First' Doesn't Last
A week after the Johanson issue was resolved, another polar
expedition was halted by misfortune -- this time, the crash of a
Bell 407 in Antarctica:
Two British record setters with an extensive pedigree of
aviation accomplishments have survived a hairy Antarctic crash in
their Bell 407.
The heli-duo made it to the South Pole, this week, as part of
their Polar First record flight on the 100th anniversary of the
Wright Brothers First Powered Flight. They had reportedly just
departed on the next leg of their challenge when the Bell 407 went
down in what was reported as "bad weather."
The Polar First Challenge 2003 lifted off from New York on
October 22nd, 2003. Its aim was to break the Pole to Pole record
and raise awareness and funds for the conservation organization
WWF. Last Saturday, Jennifer mixed record business with pleasure
when she met her businessman husband Simon Murray, who is bidding
to become the oldest man to walk 850 miles overland to the South
Pole unsupported. He is accompanied on his trip by Arctic explorer
After being rescued from the remote Antarctic crash site, Murray
and Bodill are now in the hospital in the Chilean city of Punta
Arenas following a 17-hour rescue mission to retrieve them.
The Allure Remains
But the human spirit is
indefatiguable. Last Monday, Gaithersburg (MD) pilot Gus McLeod
took off on the first leg of his flight to circumnavigate the globe
by crossing both poles. He says he's aware of the "ugly things"
that have gone down at the South Pole. He also faces money problems
stemming from a $60,000 fee a stand-by rescue team from Chile wants
him to pay to put them on standby.
But McLeod, in his Velocity Firefly, is intent on making the
trip. He's having his small, experimental aircraft refitted with
bigger fuel tanks before heading from Florida for Antarctica. ANN
will follow his progress...