The first thing that happened was that Trond's rucksack
was sent back on the Hercules to Punta Arenas. So what do you do in the
Antarctic without your equipment? Luckily we had almost double set of everything
in Morten's rucksack. We only had to make some modifications on this equipment
to make it fit on Trond. We could now see that proper preparing paid of
for the first time on this expedition.
We spent 2 days at Patriot Hills before we left for the South Pole in a Twin Otter at the 6th of December in the morning.
On board we were 8 persons, 6 skydivers a doctor and a field guide from the staff at Patriot Hills. The flight time to the South Pole is 4,5 hours from Patriot Hills. We had to make one fuel stop half the way to refuel the Twin Otter.
We reached the South Pole and the Amundsen-Scott base with clear blue skies, 35 degrees Celsius below zero, and almost no wind. A perfect day for a skydive at the South Pole.
Sydpolteamet had already, at Patriot Hills, asked for supplemental oxygen for use in the Twin Otter at the South Pole. We were told that "this would probably not be necessary". We knew that oxygen at the jump altitude at the South Pole would be absolutely necessary. We also knew that the doctor would bring two bottles for use in an emergency. At the South Pole Trond asked again for oxygen and the pilot on the Twin Otter had one oxygen bottle with one oxygen mask connected. Trond asked if it was ok to use this in the plane while we were climbing to exit altitude. The pilot agreed to this. Then we didn't have to use the emergency bottles. We could pass the oxygen mask around in the plane. This was not the way it should have been, but it was the second best that we could get. Everybody should of course have his own mask.
We made the final gear check, Sydpolteamet and Michael calibrated the AAD (Automatic Activation Device) on their reserve parachute, and all six got in the Twin Otter.
At 4000 feet above ground level (AGL) and 13000 feet
above sea level (MSL), Sydpolteamet asked for the oxygen bottle. Trond
turned on the oxygen flow and started to breathe oxygen. He then passed
it to Morten whom breathed and passed it to Michael. When he had breathed
he passed it to Hans, but he just nodded his head. He would not take any
oxygen. Steve and Ray also refused to take oxygen. It seemed like they
were just to busy preparing Ray's camera helmet. The same thing happened
every time we tried to pass the oxygen mask around.
Close to exit altitude the 4-way team, with Steve, Ray, Hans and Michael, got in the back of the Twin Otter preparing for the exit. Sydpolteamet had already been strapped together for the tandem jump, and waited a bit closer to the front of the cabin. Sydpolteamet was still breathing oxygen.
The 4-way team jumped, and Sydpolteamet jumped 20 seconds after. It was extreme cold in free fall. The temperature was about 50 degrees Celsius below zero outside, and with a speed of 200 km/t, Sydpolteamet had calculated that the effective temperature in free fall was supposed to be as low as 130 degrees Celsius below zero. Sydpolteamet had tested all their equipment in special freezing cambers to make sure that it would stand this extreme temperature. 3 of 4-way team had jumpsuits with some more clothes than normal underneath and all 4 of them had only thin gloves. 2 of them also had full-face helmet that was already starting to freeze in the doorway.
The tandem jump went just as we had planed it. We faced the Amundsen-Scott base on the ground, to have a reference point on the ground, free falled down to 4500 feet AGL and deployed the main parachute. We had a soft and normal opening, and were under canopy at 4000 feet. We could now feel the lack of oxygen, and felt very tired at this moment but still we were very happy. We had made the Worlds first tandem jump at the South Pole.
We could see the landing target on the ice, close to
the runway, and steered toward it. It was a lot of peoples standing there,
waiting for us to come down. We assumed that the 4-way team already had
landed. After almost 4 minutes under canopy, we landed close to the runway
but on the opposite side of the landing target.
Peoples started to come close to us, asking for the 4 other skydivers. They asked if they still were onboard the Twin Otter. We told them that they must have been landing right on the target. Then they told us that they only had seen one parachute in the air, and that it was our tandem chute. We then knew that something-terrible wrong must have been happened. We told them that the 4-way team had jumped before us and that they then had to start looking for them. The day that was supposed to be a happy and celebrating day for all of us had been turned in to the most tragic day of our life.
The Twin Otter landed, and we walked back to the boarding area and told the pilots what had happened. They went up with the Twin Otter at once to start looking for the other skydivers.
Then we saw Michael coming towards us. He had his reserve parachute in his arms. He told us that he had gone really low and that he thought that his AAD had opened his reserve. When that happened, the rest of the 4-way was still in free fall. Trond did a check on Michael's reserve container and could verify that the AAD had opened his reserve. The reserve handle was also still in his pocket.
After a short time Ray, Hans and Steve were found dead close to each other's about 700 meters from the landing target. No one but Steve had any parachute out, and he only had some of his main parachute out beside him.
After 4,5 hours in the Amundsen-Scott base Dome, we
started to fly back to Patriot Hills, with 3 skydivers and friends in black
body bags on board the aircraft. It was a long, cold and quiet journey
We returned to Patriot Hills at night on the 7th of December.
This is the sad, but correct story about what happened
to the Worlds first skydiving expedition to the South Pole. Many small
things were done wrong underway to the South Pole. When you add all this
small things together you can se a red line that ended up with this accident.
Sydpolteamet would like to express their sympathies
for the families of Ray, Hans and Steve.
At the airport in Punta Arenas just before we left for Antarctica.
From left to right:
Michael Kearns, Ray Miller, Steve Mulholland, Hans Resack,
Trond Jacobsen and Morten Halvorsen
We could follow the progress of the North Pole Express
via daily transmitting from their Argos transmitter. We could see their
position, temperature and small coded messages telling us how things were
in the ice. They were supposed to reach the North Pole in only 25 days.
No one had done this under 50 days before.
After some trouble in the start, with evacuation of 2 of the 5 members, they had a really good progress. After 25 days, when they had only 200 km left, they sent a message. They had stopped and wanted to be picked up as fast as possible, we did not know why. Everything else was ok.
We were still in Norway and 2 days from leaving for Canada. We left Norway on the 17th of April and arrived in Toronto the same evening. We spent one night there and flew to Edmunton the next day. From Edmunton we started the journey to the north.
We came to Resolute Bay at 74.5 degrees north in the
NorthWest territories the same evening. Morag Howell from First Air met
us at the airport. They had a Twin Otter standing by to take us to Eureka
the same evening. We made some changes in the clothes we were wearing and
got in the Twin Otter. After about 2 hours of flying we arrived Eureka
at 80 degrees north. It was cold with about 30 degrees Celsius below zero.
Eureka is a Canadian weather station and there is only 7 peoples working
there all year around. They also have the northernmost Bar in the World.
We spent the night there and prepared our equipment for the tandem skydive
at the North Pole the next day.
After a big breakfast the next morning we was on our way to pick up the North Pole Express and to do the tandem skydive at the North Pole. We flew up to almost 88 degrees north and found the North Pole Express on the ice. The 3 remaining members had only one pair of skis left. The other pairs of skis had all broken at the same place, right behind the bindings. After picking up the expedition we had to go back to 86 degrees north to refuel the Twin Otter. They had fuel barrels on a huge ice flake and one man guarding them. We fueled up and headed north again with more fuel barrels on board for refueling in the air.
We reached the North Pole and landed on the ice at
2000 hours on the 19th of April. We prepared the Twin Otter for the skydive.
The temperature was about 25 degrees Celsius below zero and everything
felt right. We went in the Twin Otter and Trond strapped Morten to the
tandem harness. Every little detail had been rehearsed and rehearsed over
and over again. We knew what to do. We flew up to 9000 feet with winds
of 40 knots. We had the GPS in the Twin Otter calibrated to the landing
target on the ice.
We jumped out in the cold air and deployed the drogue chute to stabilize the velocity at 200 km/t in free fall. We had a free fall down to 5000 feet and deployed the main parachute. We had a very smooth opening and we had done what we had come for. We could now feel the adrenaline rushing through the blood and the happiness in our bodies. We had open water right underneath us and we steered towards the landing target and away from the open water. After some very nice minutes under canopy, yelling out our happiness in the air, we landed right on target. The North Pole Express members that had being waiting for us on the ice shared our happiness before we had to pack the equipment down.
We had carried out the plan we had before we went to
the South Pole. We had again made history.
We have made a tandem jump at both the South and the North Pole.
Copyright © 1999 Sydpolteamet
Last updated 04.03.99