"There is only one way to fail in life, that is, never to take a risk"
Thedy Schneider, "Breitling" SAFour years ago, I succeeded in flying along the first step in a new, untouched and strange ice world the Arctic, which held such a fascination that it led me to visit this region together with my balloon three more times to collect valuable experiences.
Searching for further adventures (the "Round the World" idea, which I also was trying to pursue, was fortunately already done by my balloon friends Bertrand Piccard and Brian Jones) I dreamed always to fly a balloon in the Antarctic and over the South Pole and maybe to start in this way the first big balloon adventure for the third Millennium! But to put a step on this continent was enormously costly and to carry additionally a balloon was surely a pure utopian dream.
The various Government operated Antarctic programmes have largely pure scientific purposes and excluded ballooning in their programmes except for small weather and Ozone hole research balloons. There is only one private company, "Adventure Network International" (ANI) who possess a license to supply support and transport to the few private Antarctic adventurers who come annually for some weeks in December (Antarctic summertime). They however refuse principally to accept balloons and skydivers because of their previous bad experiences:
- 1995. English balloonists try to start a balloon expedition , but during their first exploring trip with a snow truck they disappeared forever into a crevasse.
- 1996. the American balloonist (and currently the 1999 World Balloon champion) Bill Arras tried to explore the Antarctic continent with a balloon, but during his second flight at Patriot Hills (near the ocean coast) a sudden gust of wind broke his balloon free and damaged it seriously on the sharp ice surface. Bill gave up disappointed.
- 1997. the first skydivers jumped over the South Pole. The sad result 3 died!
- Until now the Antarctic pack ice has crushed 6 ship (the last one in 1989)
- Additionally there are many other fatal accidents with planes and helicopters and of course plenty of cases of frostbite of polar explorers and scientists which go unreported.
One thing for sure is that you can't fool around with the Antarctic. It is an unforgiving place.
The Millennium 2000 event was promoted by the Russian adventure company "Arctic" who were trying their luck with organising a South Pole expedition in a very original way. Because they did not possess any ski -planes or helicopters in this region, the polar expert Evgeni Bakalov (a famous skydiver with more than 6000 jumps, 20 of them over the North Pole) chose specially for this expedition some newly developed "snow-bugs" which use as wheels rubber truck tubes with a pressure of 0.25 bar. The 8 prototype "Snow bugs" were made from the light metal "Duralluminium" at Minsk (White Russia). They use either 1.6 l Volkswagen or Peugeot Diesel engines and have a total weight of 750 kg. The idea was to survive with this very lightweight construction and with the help of God (for this reason a priest from Siberia was specially included in the party) the dangerous crevasses on the way to the South Pole.
The Expedition included 55 persons from 15 nations including 35 brave skydivers (including the famous Mr. B. J. Worth who doubled as James Bond 007 in several movies), 5 experienced balloon pilots with 2 balloons, 2 renowned scientists, some eccentric Antarctic fans, 3 medical doctors (Who like "Vodka" of course only for disinfecting) and the driving crew for the buggies.
Nobody had been put off by the high costs of participating of US $20,000 per person and US$160 per kg for luggage (for a balloon weighing 400 kg this will cost $64,000!) to realise their life dreams. Even paying this money gave you no guarantee of success from the Russian organisers. Every participant was additionally required to pay extra money for a special evacuation insurance in case the need should arise.
A TAROT-card ( one possible way to look in the future, if you believe) analysed by my polar friend Matthias Wölfle showed a positive trend for my personal participation and I took this as a good omen. With a diabolical willpower I mobilised all possible ways of organising the necessary finances ( and this before Christmas!). I also worked long hours on my balloon construction to reduce the total take off weight to 140 kg and to minimise this way my costs to an acceptable amount. Through a big sponsorship help of the mobile telephone company "max.mobil" and a large part of my own money the financial situation was eventually resolved.
Additionally I made an agreement with the Russians to offer me the transport for myself and my balloon from Europe to Chile "free of charge". As an exchange they requested me to act as a translator for the English-Russian-French- German languages during the expedition. And so I joined, very late and at the last moment this great adventure.
"When will you come back?" - my wife Margit asked me anxiously.
"In the next Millennium"- I said roguishly before my departure on the 17th December 1999 in an answer which was just as good for a question about a trip to the Cosmos.
"God bless you , protect you on this hard expedition and send you good weather"- said Margit sadly, already giving up any hope of changing my mind back to celebrating the Millennium together with the family in Vienna. To be honest, it was also for me a painful sacrifice and it was the first time in my life that I celebrated Christmas and New Year separated from my family.
"People needs heroes, who risk such adventures" - encouraged Michael Heiden, the PR-manager from the sponsor "max.mobil". "Such an adventure can guide you to an abyss where you must be able to look brave and resolute in the eyes of an unknown danger. A lot of people cannot do this. They hesitate, renounce and stay on the beaten track of the weekday. But you have the force and the courage to solve the problems, to carry far the spirit of Prometheus, to make the dreams a human reality, to encourage the people and enthuse them".
A flight in a Cargo plane without seats is quite amusing. I made a kind of nest with my sleeping bag and soft polar clothes on top of the buggies which were held firm with chains. I slept there most of the flight dreaming of a nice warm beach. After several stops in Spain, Cape Verde and Brazil we finally landed on the 21st December at Punta Arenas, the southernmost city in Patagonia (Chile), from where many expeditions leave for the Antarctic continent. The city of 190,000 habitants (half of them Croatians who arrived 150 years ago from Croatia looking for gold) is situated on the northern shoreline of the Magellan Strait. We spent 10 days in a small hotel making preparations, such as organising fuel, food and clothing provisions, a special toilet, gaining all the necessary government permissions and also waiting for all the participants coming individually from 15 countries.
On the 24th of December the Illuyshin-76 flew with a lot of fuel drums and half of the Snow buggies and Russian staff to the Antarctic. Their task was to build the base camp at Patriot Hills (near the ANI Camp on the coast) and to make a fuel store on the 85° parallel, which was 550 km further away or about half way to the South Pole. The rest of the group remained in Punta Arenas and celebrated a sunny "Christmas night" with a very rich lamb barbecue party.
The "Silent Night, Holly Night"-song which we sang was composed in 1818 in Oberndorf (Salzburg, Austria). This moved me greatly (even when sung in the Spanish language) and despite my family being thousands of kilometres away. With a "Feliz Navidad" we then drank the local "Pisco sour" and "Sangria" and then went for a swim in the 6°C cold Magellan Sea water a good hard training for the Antarctic.
Finally, on the 31st of December 1999, we had all the permissions needed in our pockets. There were some restrictions. We were required to take some Chileans with us and to pay some taxes. According to the SCAR convention of 1960 for environmental protection of the untouched continent, it is absolutely forbidden to throw away or to leave any waste as we need to preserve a proper and clean environment. This was O.K. with me, because as an environmental protection chemist (I worked in this profession for 22 years) I was worried about the future of the Antarctic continent. Also for our personal body waste we prepared big, tough plastic drums which we carried back to Europe after the expedition. I think, these requirements should be prescribed for each expedition on this world and also in space!
At 21.00 hundred hours ZULU ( "Z" = Greenwich time) the plane took off. An original idea for the flight was how our different nations celebrated in their different full hour time "their Millennium" with all the other people celebrating together with them and so the Champagne corks flew constantly throughout the plane. At 01.00 hundred Z ( 0.00 hours middle European time) Austria and all the Europeans celebrated together their Millennium 2000 under the melody of the Viennese waltz "On the nice blue Danube" by Johann Strauss (this is a big old tradition). Under us floated already a growing number of icebergs.
After a 4 hour flight we saw the "Blue Ice runway" situated at the base of the 15,000 ft high Vinson mountains and placed on a glacier.
A very strong side wind coming down from the mountains made problems for the pilots. High tension in the cockpit and some loud commands and then the heavy 190 ton aircraft touched down on the wind polished clear ice. During the final braking the side wind caused the plane to slide to one side and it nearly danced a waltz turn but this was hardly felt by the guys in the cargo hold. We had arrived at Patriot Hills which is situated at a 855 meters height on the border of the Ronne ice shelf.
There was big applause for the two skilled pilots Igor Zakirov and Raphael Girfanov (both of them flight heroes of Russia who really understand their hard job). The aircraft door was opened and the ice cold breath of the Antarctic crawled into the plane and forced the participants to quickly put on their polar clothes.
One after another we descended like penguins wearing our thick clothes down the steps of the gangway ladder onto the ice. The glaring and dazzling snow reflecting the strong sunlight forced us to put our snow-goggles on and also to add Factor-20 sun protection creme, especially after we saw the broken lips and burned noses from the welcoming Russians who had already built our base camp.
Itīs very difficult to describe the Antarctic. You must experience this continent. It is for us a strange and enormously big ice world, almost like another planet in the universe where the evolution is yet to start. An endless snow and ice landscape, free of any civilisation, with a middle altitude of 2500 meters and high mountains like Mt. Vinson, at the base of which we had our "Millennium Blue Ice" camp.
Double skin tents, which were protected with snow-brick-walls, a thigh high barrel drum with a frozen funnel for the toilet, two green WC-tents and nylon bags for the waste, a snow kitchen hole with two kerosene burners and a double skinned cooking pot, a long outdoor dinner table which looked like a trench, a food store tent ( which was the sleeping place of our cook Igor, who watched the "Gourmet" store even while sleeping) and a radio communications tent with a 9 ft high antenna, surrounded by the esoteric looking snow-buggies this was our Antarctic home, situated 1 km from the ANI camp and 600 meters from the Chilean military camp called "Blue Ice City". Although we had all the necessities for survival in our camp, our eyes roamed jealously to the two neighbouring camps, which possessed heated rooms , working showers and warm WC rooms. But never mind, our cook worked on time. A full stomach, warm polar clothes, a clear spirit (double meaning for head and Vodka) and a strong will were the main necessities for our survival and for the success of our task.
Exact at midnight Chilean time (3.00 h Z ) we all celebrated together the Millennium 2000 without any Computer failures and for the first time without the traditional fireworks because of the strong daylight and also because of environment protection requirements. Instead 35 skydivers jumped from the sky and I had for the first time the opportunity to make a New Year balloon flight ( a long wished for dream) and to be the Millennium Star 2000 on the Antarctic sky. The weather was fascinating, sunny and unusually calm.
Nevertheless our Champagne was frozen and we were forced to celebrate with our pure "Vodka" bottle. After visiting the ANI and the Chile camps where we exchanged best wishes we put their exotic stamps in our passports and we went to "bed" which meant an unpleasant crawl into a cold sleeping bag on the ice.
As the only English-Russian language speaking person in this expedition, I acquired the doubtful honour of being constantly the interpreter for the Russians. I also thereby had the opportunity to see "behind the secret problems" and to help solve many apparent problems and even influence some decisions which were very important for the successful outcome of the expedition. With my polar experience (4 times to the North Pole) and abundant knowledge of human nature I often managed to smooth problems and hold things together on our way to the South Pole and back. But the way there was very long. An enormous 1100 km bee-line (more than the distance from Paris to Vienna) separated us from the South Pole. The hopes of us all were fixed on our leader Vladimir Chukov an old polar fox, who had crossed the North Pole on skis 3 times and once also the South Pole.
"Ivan, we have a big problem" whispered Chukov to me. "Our buggies are the first proto-types, which have more mechanical problems than we expected. When we travelled to the 85° Parallel to build the fuel store, we made 1200 km and we had serious difficulties with all the gearboxes. Due to technical reasons we can now take only half the original number of participants and we cannot even give any guarantee that we will reach the South Pole with this half-sized group. I have already examined the people for myself and have finished a selection list from those guys who will be able to survive the hard toils and hardships of the expedition. From our 5 women there is nobody going. And the most tragic thing is that we are not able to refund any money to anybody because all the budget is already empty with the big expenses for the expedition. You now have the unpleasant duty to explain this difficult situation and to announce the names from the list".
Truly a very difficult task! You can imagine that you have booked and paid a lot of money for one place in the Space Shuttle to the Moon to celebrate the Millennium (which is possible only once every 1000 years) and suddenly you must leave the flight because it is overweight, without getting any money back because of an empty budget! As a cosmonaut involved in the Austro-Mir space project I had the opportunity to observe a lot of stand-by cosmonauts resting with tears in their eyes at Baikunur still on the ground during the take off of the space rocket. I could understand the feeling of our "Victims" deep in my heart. But the present situation dictated a selection and this was irrevocably done. Because the skydiving jumps over the South Pole were not permitted (our skydivers had already done those kind of jumps at Patriot Hills) the choice of which people should continue was compressed to the balloon pilots, scientists, some skydivers, journalists and foreign TV-Reporters and of course the mechanical men, who managed the driving job.
"History repeats again its first page" I opened the critical briefing. "Robert Scott lost his life because he was overweight, cumbersome and not flexible during his polar expedition. To not share his destiny, we can demand from the buggies only the performance for which they are built and able to do. This means, we cannot all go to the South Pole! This trip is full of dangers! The distance is extremely and terrifyingly long! To sleep a lot of days on the ice is not the healthiest way to rest. Deep crevasses, masked on the top with snow, await with impatience to kill us, snow-hurricanes can stop our overheated engines and put them out of work. Mechanical failures can force this expedition into a disaster: It is like a way to the scaffold! We are alone relying on ourselves, without any help, and everybody who decides now to come with us must calculate for the worst! If you accept and believe you understand this risk you can pack only the real necessary luggage you will need, because every kilogram weight is counting for our success, and prepare yourself for the departure. For me, I have had until now a very turbulent and interesting life behind me. If death catches me then it was my last adventure, but I will not regret my decision. Iīm going!"
The reactions were different. Astonishingly one German and two Americans withdrew and gave their places to two other Americans and an Austrian guy. Two White Russian participants from the TV team, who were not in the list, suddenly ran amok with open knives to the smooth buggy wheels, crying "Only with us or nobody!" Without any regard to the fact that we had enough spare wheels, our brave drivers waiting beside the buggies, caught the two crazy guys and brought them to reason.
The expedition now shrank to 31 people from 11 nations (USA, Russia, White Russia, Japan, Korea, Austria, Spain, France, Djibouti and Belgium). Happily I still had a half-full gas cylinder, and so I invited the Spanish guys to fly with their balloon together with me in the still fantastically good weather although they still had their 3 gas cylinders untouched. But they refused "because of the South Pole record". I also like records but above all I understand that as a passionate ambassador of the fantastic sport of ballooning I like to float untroubled in the air like a friendly smiling cloud in the sky giving happiness to the human heart. So I made my second take off, again with a lot of intermediate landings to exchange every time new passengers from the poor guys condemned to remain 2 or more weeks in our base camp. The balloon climbed to 3000 ft and descended like a plane ride of a dolphin distributing warm happiness around. I was happy to show my friends how extraordinary it is to fly with air in the air. After the final landing I realised a dream to have achieved the maximum number of balloon flights in the Antarctic again a new small record which made people happy.
Meanwhile, the buggies were loaded and ready to leave. Under the radio command (all buggies possessed a short range radio transmitter) of Vladimir Drabo, the chief of the drivers, the buggy-echelon (like a tank column) started out for the South Pole one week behind schedule. Soon the sadly waving people disappeared behind us into the white remoteness. First we drove around the Vinson mountains. The buggies were planning to run at a 90 km/hour speed but on the uneven, snow edge and uneven terrain we succeeded with only a 20 25 km per hour speed. A real snail tempo, which increased the unpleasant distance to a monster distance! It seemed like there was a never ending twisting and altering world in front of us. Now I understood the sacrifices which Mozart accepted during his trips in Europe with a horse cabby for presenting his famous concerts. The necessary stops of the horse cabby for exchanging the horses and resting, in our case were the many breakdown stops. Just 30 km from the base camp we already had the first stop for repairs. It took a hard 2 hours work repairing our right gear box.
Separated in his sleeping bag, our radio operator Yuri Zaruba listened with his headphones to the ether for any signs of life. Magnetic storms in the Ionosphere had caused the radio to be silent for many long hours. Suddenly a gentle voice called from the space: Diana, a radio-operator from the South Pole Amundsen-Scott US Station had the first radio connection with us and informed herself about our position and situation. The face of Yuri lit up like a sunrise. He reported in detail about our Millennium expedition. Diana said she felt sorry for our problems and told us, that all the staff of the US base were already very curious about our buggies and balloons and they all looked forward to give us a friendly welcome. Maybe it seems strange, but this sweet woman's voice gave us strength to mobilise and to hold out bravely.
After 5 further repairs, the long "day" was finished. We reached the 81° 23īParallel and built our first overnight camp. The pathetic performance was only 120 km! The way in front of us seemed incredibly longer and the thought of achieving it was hardly imaginable. I discussed with Drabo our worsening situation:
"Why are these buggies so susceptible?"- I asked with displeasure.
"Why? "- he answered with a hangdog look. "If anybody gave you enough money for a horse drawn carriage and asked you to deliver for the same money a Mercedes car, this would be the result!"
"In September the organisers ordered 10 buggies with a penalty for non delivery by December. Right up until the departure of the cargo plane we succeeded, even with a lot of overwork hours, to finish only 8 prototype buggies and had no time to test them. We were financially and by the lack of time forced to use the cheapest materials and to buy where available, already commercial equipment which we adapted for the buggies. For example our "breakdown record" gearbox comes from a military jet plane type, which is no longer in production and we found it in a spare parts store and got it without money. If we had used trade mark parts from Mercedes, Volkswagen or other famous car-companies, the reliability of these buggies would be much better. The "low pressure wheel" buggies are a splendid idea and they have a great future. They are excellent for crossing marshes, sand desserts, deep snow landscapes and even in a farm carpark they gave an excellent work rate during rain periods. If we survive this trip, we will develop these buggies to perfection. But for the moment we have enough spare parts but a little praying to God can be also useful."
To demonstrate the smooth landscape way to drive these buggies, 7 mechanics laid together in a human carpet and one of the buggies drove over top of them, without any consequences! This was really a very impressive way to demonstrate their usefulness for crevasses crossing construction but it didnīt solve our technical problems.
"Tomorrow we must cross a big glacier with dangerous crevasses and so we must pray for good luck" whispered Chukov as a "Good night" saying and went into his polar sleeping bag. The night was terribly cold with the thermometer recording -25°C. It is amazing how the coldness crawls slowly through the neoprene insulation, and then through the polar sleeping bag and finally through the polar clothes until it reaches the skin. In the morning the Austrian Ernst Zinnhobler complained of a headache and kidney pains. That's all we needed in addition to our mechanical problems. To minimise this problem, Chukov changed the travel sequences. We start to drive in the polar "night" when the sun stays lower on the horizon and the coldness is definitely greater than the polar "day" when the sun shines in the top of our tents and helps to heat them in a kind of a green house effect.
In splendid weather we continued under the safety GPS guiding navigation of leader Chukov. The exceedingly infinite and never ending white reflecting snow plain dazzled us like a mirror. It reflects 80% of the incoming sunlight energy and ensures that even in the Antarctic summer and its deep freezing temperatures that if one forgets snow goggles then it will quickly avenge you with bloodshot eyes and a headache. Suddenly a ball-bearing from the back drive unit squeaked and rattled and then gave a terrible roar! Andrei, our driver didnīt take notice of this noise and continued his way with an iron stubbornness. After a period of time the bearing quietened again. "It knows very well, that we will not be changing it, and for this reason it tried to hold out" Andrei roguishly grinned and I trembled inside hoping also that nothing bad would happen.
As a translator I drove in the lead buggy Nr. 4 with Chukov, where our radio communicator Yuri Zaruba from Novosibirsk kept most of the radio hams worldwide in touch with our Millennium Antarctic Expedition and also with the radio station at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station which knows all the time our position. Yuri was kind to transmit our private radiogrammes to our wives. He had nearly always a full time job with his call sign R3CA/ANT/M.
We saw before us over and over again the infinite wideness of this ice desert. It doesn't matter if it was during a technical repairing stop or through a scratched out hole in the ice covered window during driving. Any travel on the Moon would certainly be more eventful. The technical problems however grew more and more desperate. With 7 breaks on the gearboxes, axles and bearings we reached the 83° Parallel, where Chukov 4 years ago during his Antarctic crossing left a part of his dispensable luggage. We actually found his equipment at a one meter depth in the snow! After a dinner we made our second bivouac. On this day we had travelled 180 km! Actually we planned to reach the South Pole in 3 days, but the 11th Commandment says: "Donīt be deceived!"
"Good morning... or good night? What date is it today? What time is it and in which time zone? Zulu? GMT? Or Chilean? Or New Zealand? Or Moscow time? I think, that if you lock up a human in a dark room for some time, it canīt be worse than our situation was. After some corresponding claims I wrote in my diary with stiff frozen fingers "Tuesday, the 4th January, 15.30 hours Chilean time, we start again". After removing my sleeping bag, I realised that it was frozen on the bottom due to my body moisture. Ernst complained again about his kidney pains. He told me, that his urine was dark, maybe because it had blood in it. The situation had become more serious!
After 40 km the trailer carrying the Spanish balloon broke down! The 400 kg load was too much for the trailers light aluminium construction. The different pieces of the balloon were distributed to all other trailers. The displeasure of the participants increased. They wanted to leave the Spanish balloon now because it endangered the whole expedition! Chukov calmed the people and said "We will try to take this balloon to the middle camp and after that we will see".
Spanish Balloon trailor broken down
With a shameful 10 further breakdowns on this day we reached the maximum number of repairs. Finally, on the 5th January at 6.30 hours Z we located with our weary eyes the longed-for middle camp at a 1625 meter altitude and 85° 30ī21.9īī S and 81° 31ī43,5īī W co-ordinates location near the Thiel mountains. These are a extinct volcanic group of mountains which are now famous as a meteorite finding place. Later we find out that at the same time a US scientific NASA expedition with the famous astronauts Jim Lovell (Apollo 13) and Owen Garrett (Space Lab) were here searching for meteorites. But we had at this time other problems to deal with. Our spare parts were nearly at an end and it seemed that we must give up.
"We cannot continue on this way" I said, sitting with Chukov and Drabo in a corner of the tent. I pushed both of them to make an emergency decision for the successful future of our expedition.
"Our buggies are still overloaded and they continuously must climb the slope to the South Pole and this causes the catastrophic frequency of breaks"- said Drabo with an unshakeable confidence in his technique.
"I can imagine that we can hold out and succeed if we take 4 of the better buggies with only half of the people, only your light balloon and a minimum of luggage. For spare parts, we can cannibalise the critical parts from the other buggies, which we will leave here."
"And what will happen with the other people?" I disgruntledly asked Chukov.
"If we accept the proposal of Drabo, the people must stay here one week or longer and wait for our return. You are now incumbent with the honour to announce this "tasty" proposal to our friends" Chukov said to me, without looking in my eyes.
It is natural, that in the first moment I felt some satisfaction with this new situation, which favoured my balloon, but somehow I got a bitter after taste and with some scruples thought that I donīt want to crawl over "helpless bodies" to claim some success. Before going to sleep, but wisely after the dinner (because itīs easier to support a hard destiny with a full stomach), I organised a briefing for all.
Everybody feels, that now the "time of the trust" will come.
"Gentlemen"- I said with an icy beard. "Unfortunately we cannot continue in this way as we wish. We will not reach the South Pole under these circumstances. This difficult expedition we can compare with a Himalayan climbing expedition to Mt. Everest. 31 people started in the valley and only 2 or 3 people might reach the top, but the whole expedition becomes successful. And everybody who takes part in it will have a piece of the honour and can be proud and happy because of his participation. Only when we give up will we fail! And we wonīt give up!
Our new strategy is: 14 persons will continue in 4 buggies and with a minimum of luggage, including only my light balloon, to try to reach the South Pole. You have now the whole "NIGHT" time to think over and to search for volunteers, who will stay in this camp. If tomorrow there is no result, Chukov will decide who will continue on the way to the Pole. Let us learn from the cruel history, learn from Scottīs mistakes and use the experience of Amundsen. I wish a "good night", if anybody intends to sleep."
This was like a hit in the face. The tenseness increased to boiling point. A explosion of emotions surged through the group. Nobody went to sleep. All discussed and thought up different ideas for possible solutions. The Americans decided that it would be better if we all gave up, showed our backs to the Pole and returned safely to our base camp. The Spanish guys refused in any case to return or to leave their balloon in this camp, though their balloon trailer had already broken down. They argued in their hot Spanish temperament that they had paid through their sponsor the highest amount of US $200,000 money for this expedition and so they were ready for each confrontation and threatened to loose their composure. the Spanish began a very harsh argument especially with the Americans which threatened to finish in violence. The French also protested that they would make a big public relations fuss, and would loose face and the trust of their sponsor if they stayed behind in this camp. Everybody had their argument to be included in those to continue onto the Pole. The expedition threatened to collapse like the tower of Babylon.
"Anulfo" I said as I pulled the heated Spaniard alongside me and tried to calm the waves of emotions. "Our balloons and our planed record cannot be the price for a human life! If itīs really necessary to leave this balloon equipment deep frozen here in the Antarctic for saving our lives, we will do this. I know how your feelings are now and what responsibilities you have to your sponsor. I have the same problems. We decided for weight reasons to take my balloon on the way to the South Pole with the option to abandon the balloon in the snow in case of a more pressing situation".
The big black eyes of Anulfo widened more and more as he began excitedly to tremble. "I just phoned my wife via satellite and I told her, that our chances are not so bad. She told me with happiness, that we will have a baby! In my euphoria I said that if it will be a boy then we will baptise him "Antarctico". And now this disappointing situation! How I can say this to my crew and my sponsor?" He asked dejectedly.
I knew Anulfo and his crew from two years ago in Lisbon during a balloon competition for Expo-98. He had invited me to participate in an exotic balloon fiesta on the Costa del Sol. Under fragrant Mediterranean sea breezes and palm shadows I proposed to Anulfoīs young team (all around 30 years old) that they join me in my North Pole expedition in 1999. Spontaneously they agreed to this proposal and none of them ever regretted the decision. Two very beautiful extreme balloon flights in the Arctic and over the North Pole were the deserving compensation for the long icy trip. The Spanish press and TV reported with a lot of ovations to them about this expedition. I was mentioned only briefly and in small text as being the organiser. But as a 55 year old veteran I try to help out with these problems. Now the situation was similar, we were again together, but in the Antarctic, and the South Pole was until now "Untouched" by a balloon. A very expensive survival flight watch was a prize for the first balloon flight at the South Pole and of course I wanted to win. But in this critical situation my helpful conscience felt bad and my friendship was stronger than my Ego. So I said to him:
"Anulfo, until now we have been competitors in this expedition, which task Iīm going to win in any case and without any problems despite our bad situation. But I will have for ever a bad conscience to have taken the advantage of our hopeless situation and to take alone the glory of this flight. Better a sharing glory and a good friendship than enemies for ever like Scott and Amundsen who joined together only after death. Ballooning is a philosophy of acceptance and tolerance. We have a common target of the South Pole! Iīm ready to help you as a friend and a balloon colleague. Letīs bury our Egos deep in the ice! If you agree to reduce the weight of your balloon at least on the half kg, to carry the advertising banner of my sponsor and to accept me as the senior pilot in command, to take only one person more from your crew together with us and to be ready to leave your balloon at the South Pole after our common flight, I can make a new proposal to Chukov and to give you a chance if Chukov agrees. Your balloon is bigger, more coloured and has a basket which will allow a 3 person team to fly. But I pray to god to keep the wind calm at the Pole, because otherwise we will fail and will miss this unique opportunity, because as you know my balloon with it's special fire ring can fly in much more windy conditions than yours. Well lets play this Poker: All or nothing!"
With resignation Anulfo attached himself to this proposal like to a straw blade. Chukov also after a short time agreed although he foresaw already the vehement protests from the Americans. He wanted again explicit from us the agreement to leave our balloons in the Antarctic.
The muffled cough of Ernst reminded me to help this man. A second cough joined Ernst's cough. It was the Korean TV Cameraman Bong Hee Oh, who was also becoming ill with a high fever. Ernst was insured for a evacuation by the "Tyrolean Flight Ambulance" company. Told of the enormous evacuation price from ANI of US $ 160,000, the managers in Innsbruck were strongly surprised how expensive this action would be. Through the "max.mobil" satellite phone I spoke for a long time to convince them that human life is more important than money! Finally Innsbruck gave the O.K. and a ski equipped twin otter from ANI was engaged but it was to take 3 days until the weather conditions allowed the safety evacuation flight to Patriot Hills.
Ivan using the Iridium "max.mobil" phone
Again, the hard decisions had to come. I tried to get these done quickly. Because there were still no volunteers to stay at the camp I took the list from Chukov and announced the 14 names of people from 6 nations (Russia, USA, White Russia, Austria, France, Spain). "Whoever refuses to accept the facts which life has served him, must suffer!" recapitulated Chukov philosophically. "For anyone to say that this solution is not convenient, had theoretically the choice to walk back to the base camp or to be evacuated by ANI for a horribly high amount of money as the insurance companies paid out only in case of a serious injury!" As an alternative he proposed a vacation of 2 or 3 weeks in the middle camp (called later by the people who stayed there "Chukolak" like Chukov and Archipel Gulak) under the careful watch of cook Igor, participating in sports activities like Igloo building, snow man making, snowball fights, walking in a circle around a virtual point called the "Millennium South Pole", looking for meteorites, walking in the crystal clear air, a orthodox Christmas celebration ceremony with a nice real fir tree from Siberia and a lot of sleeping and the unique possibility of a self knowledge to overcome the depression of the past and a frightened feeling for the future.
"You will snuff it, together with your buggies!" predicted with a devilish face expression and unmistakable cynicism the skydiver John Lewis, who from the beginning complained a lot about the expedition. "But not with me, I will get myself evacuated!" he announced confidently. The rest of the people staying behind were certainly dissatisfied, but most of them accepted bravely their inevitable destiny.
Busy preparations began. All dispensable luggage was removed. The "Spare parts" cannibalised from the remaining buggies and the Spanish crew worked at reducing their balloon to 210 kg weight. Looking at the incredibly good weather with no wind, I decided to fly again in DUO with my balloon (It might be my last flight with my lovely Polar balloon OE-KZT) now on the 85° parallel and to lift the spirits of our remaining "Victims" to a higher level by flying them in the sky. The French skydiver Mario Gervasi had as the only one (forbiddingly) brought his parachute with him from Patriot Hills, hoping somewhere for the possibility of a skydive. He crept behind me ready for jumping and annoyed me for so long that I said O.K! With little worry about missing safety belts on my balloon Mario knelt down near me lying on the gas cylinder and holding on with both hands to my balloons meagre pipe construction. We passed through a thin layer of clouds and soon reached the altitude of 7500 ft. After we began to sink down a little I gave Mario the sign. "Ciao! And thanks a lot, you made my dream reality!" Mario smiled and dropped himself off into the void. With palpitations I looked down, worrying if his parachute would open due to the cold temperatures. At the same time I climbed quickly higher due to the sudden lose of weight.
Ivan flying high over the Antarctic in "claud hopper" over the clouds on the 85° Parallel after dropping the French skydiver Mario Gervasi.
I finally reached 10,000 ft and when above the thin clouds, an enormous round view opened up behind my snow goggles. A gigantic untouched infinity in a pure clear whiteness with a cosmic silence, without a bird call, wind swishing or a rush of waves, this dull dreary icy hell of adventures in the middle of nowhere without any traces of life, without one tree, not one field of grass, not even one house! It is not so easy for our civilisation drilled brain to comprehend this. Eventually I opened several times the parachute flap to release some hot air from the envelope. It seemed an eternity until the balloon finally landed on the snow, some 40 km away from our camp. One of our buggies promptly retrieved me. Chukov felt snubbed and murmured something in his beard like "no getting permission for this skydive jump" but because all had passed well he finally said "Forget it". I made on this day several new records. The maximum number of balloon flights in the Antarctic, the highest one and the first balloon skydiver drop over this continent.
Only 495 km to the target! The 4 buggies started to roll. Soon the middle camp disappeared into the whiteness behind us. For weight reasons we also left our cooking kettle in the middle camp and so we couldn't have any warm meals. Sausages, cheese, chocolate and the already detested McKay Nestle crackers were our sole foods. The nicest thing however was that we travelled 10 hours and had only ONE break! On the 6th of January we reached the 87° Parallel . At 2352 m MSL we overnighted on the ice with a 27°C temperature. The first night with a cold stomach! Dull headaches appeared and were suppressed by my well known old Chinese accu-pressure method. To organise hot water for our thermos flasks, I tried to melt snow in a aluminium pot with our powerful balloon burner. The snow melted but so did the pot! Drabo smiled compassionately beside me. He pumped his small gasoline blow-lamp and requested patience. "Slowly, but sure!" he said was his snow melting procedure and this was valid also for the rest of our buggy trip to the South Pole.
260 km to the point of the points! The increasing coldness seriously began to bite us. The many days of breathing cold and dry air, poor movement in the buggies, "butterflies" in the stomach, poorly sealing doors and too small or already damaged heaters caused many of us to get bad colds. Time and date became more and more confused. In front of us there appeared again a dangerous crevasse zone. Carefully and at walking speed, we led the way carefully like walking on eggs and drove around the hollow, where there appeared to be a deadly crevasse which laid in wait for us. To manage our nervous tension better we served the breakfast as usual in the buggies with the crumbly McKay Nestle Crackers. Roguishly looking, Yuri brought from under his polar jacket a real Russian black bread! Look at this, I wanted to kiss our star. "From where did you get this treasure?" astonishedly we asked him. "I found it in one of the trailers during our last stop" Yuri explained to us happily. The finding he had kept secret and it was just as well that he did so, because arriving later at the South Pole, the Priest Victor searched desperately for this bread from Siberia to use in his Mass. This bread, although from the last Millennium, tasted wonderful and was strictly rationed in small pieces.
2863 m MSL!!! An extremely flat plateau and very convenient for our dogged buggies. But it was too soon to be happy. Suddenly a big noise happened and we were stopped again with a broken driving axle and without a spare part for it. It seemed to our magical mechanics however that it wasn't any problem! To improvise in these circumstances was very important and within 2 hours they had built a new axle from another part, and this was achieved without a service car and in this snow wilderness!
Soon, we draw close again to each other for our final trip to the famous South Pole Dome, which was already blinding our drivers right in their eyes. But it took several more hours, until on the 8th of January at 6.00 hundred hours Z when we were welcomed personally by the manager of the Amundsen-Scott US Station, Mr. Ed Blain, who had driven a snow-skidoo out to meet us. Yuri had already announced by radio what our expected arrival time was. After a formal introduction we were escorted directly to the South Pole, where 40 employees of the US Station waited curiously with photo and video cameras for us.
"Dear friends" I asked the gathered crowd. "Are there any brave guys amongst you?" Suddenly nearly all the people said "Yes". 7 of them lay as a human carpet on the snow and one of our buggies rolled over the shocked guys. This caused a big euphoria and everybody wanted to go "under the wheels". So we won quickly the hearts of the Americans and the other foreigners who worked in the scientific station. We then began to exchange pins, stickers, patches and t-shirts and got an official invitation for the next day to go into the station itself.
I stood on the South Pole thinking that finally it was done! We had succeeded! I looked at this longed-for point for which we had risked our lives. The American flag flies at this point with an notice board in English, describing the Geographic South Pole and its explorers. The glacier under it continues to move about 100 meters a year and so the exact South Pole must be fixed again every year at a new place.
About 50 meters from this point there is a crystal mirror globe about the size of a football, which reflects the flags flying around this point. The flags belong to all the scientific nations having stations in the Antarctic. This symbolic "Ceremonial South Pole" point is one of the famous South Pole landmarks.
American's etc helping hold the balloon envelope.
At right are the two gas burners for inflation.
The splendid, windless weather with 40°C invited us to make our record balloon flight. With the thankful help of the station guys and in a big surprise to Anulfo, without a fan (we had left them in the middle camp because of weight problems) we quickly inflated the envelope by hand and took off leisurely over the South Pole going away up into the infinite space, like a majestic rocket lifting off. We were very happy! I threw my fur hat to the people below and shouted with tears in my eyes:
The Balloon lifting off at the South Pole for its record making flight.
Ivan working the controls during the first flight in the Spanish Balloon.
"My god, I thank you from the depth of my soul, that you chose me amongst millions of people to fly a balloon over both Poles of this Earth! Itīs a divine feeling to float over the Earth's axis and to welcome in the third Millennium. Happy New Year 2000! and save our planet Earth!"
We flew with 3 persons in the basket, a symbol of the Trinity in our life. A shared happiness is a double happiness! After being first on the burner, I gave up this task soon to Anulfo Gonzalez so I could make our very important photographic record of the flight. Again soon after this, Anulfo gave up operating the burner and handed this task over to the next Co-Pilot, Faustino Mortera so he also could do some filming work. We looked over the Amundsen-Scott Station, remembering the brave explorers and we held a minute of silence in memory of our skydiver friends who had died here 2 years ago. And we dared to think that maybe this balloon flight will really be recorded for history.
The balloon climbed up higher and higher until we reached 15000 ft MSL. Still we found nearly no wind at all! But we certainly felt the 55°C and the balloon "breathed" and thick condensation clouds like those from a steam train engine formed inside it. The biting cold reminded us that this was not a dream and that we were experiencing one of the greatest moments in our lives. Suddenly I touched the top of my ears they were as hard as glass! A first indication of frostbite! Carefully I pulled them under my Siberian Wolf Fur hat because I remembered with horror and dread the bloodshot frostbite of a French guy last year at the North Pole. I was however unable to do anything about the coldness in my feet but at this moment in time this was for me not so relevant.
Suddenly a thin jet of liquid gas erupted from the coupling upwards! I quickly remembered that a similar situation had happened at the North Pole. Due to the very low temperatures , the rubber gasket had shrunk and had loosened. It was very lucky that we were so high when the burners were closed and the balloon sank . It was also lucky that we were wearing sun goggles because a drop of liquid Propane in our eyes would have caused seriously injuries. To prevent such a disaster the valves from the burner and the gas cylinder were immediately closed. Quickly the cold hard gasket was exchanged for a warm smooth new gasket which had been greased with Vaseline and our nightmare was averted.
As we descended to the ground I noticed our chase buggy appearing under us like a small ant. With a pain on my face I warmed the tops of my nearly frozen ears with my cold hands and did gymnastics in my boots to help reactivate the blood circulation in my frozen toes. Anulfo exchanged his place in the basket with the buggy driver Vitali and we flew again for a short flight. A further time we flew with cameraman Stephan and for our last flight with our "American Angel" Sarah, another female radio operator from the US Amundsen-Scott Station who had followed us in the snow buggy with our driver Vitali. After 1 hour and 25 minutes our gas was empty and we finally landed about 20 km away from the South Pole Station.
After some difficult packing away (in this altitude and temperature every bit of work while wearing thick polar clothes becomes difficult) we headed back to the base but suddenly and oh what shame! Another of our gear boxes broke down! We had no spare parts with us nor any tools to repair anything! Vitali used our buggy-radio to request help, but in our camp all the people were already asleep and there was no answer forthcoming. Our kind Angel Sarah tried to help us. She changed the radio frequencies to those of the US Station and sent them a request for help. The South Pole Radio operator Neil Connant who answered our call went over to the buggy-camp and woke up the Russians. Being drowsy and not speaking English, they eventually understood the following message: "The balloon crashed on the buggy and there has been a big catastrophe!"
Never in their lives did the Russians move so quickly! They came immediately with all the three other buggies and were very happy to find that only a ridiculous gear drive was broken. Vitali thanked Sarah by giving her a expedition sticker and Sarah wrote him her address on a US $5 note because no other paper was available. Vitali couldnīt believe his eyes. "This is mad! I will never have the heart to spend this note!"
Returning to our camp I tried to crawl into my sleeping bag. The realisation that I lay here at the exact South Pole now was strange. I imagined that I could feel the Earth axis through my spine. In 2 hours time it would be time to visit the US Station. Where had all our time disappeared to? Have we really already spent this amount of time here or were we timeless? We were on the point, where all time zones come together, where the sun goes in a halo-circle overhead during 24 hours and dictates to the Thymus gland "Itīs day, itīs light, you shouldn't be tired, you donīt have to sleep.." Quite confusing!
Through a long tunnel we came inside the South Pole Dome. But my imagination about the high tech inside of this Dome was quickly disappointed. I saw only a lot of pilled up containers, in which were various offices, the radio station, kitchen, bathroom, sleeping rooms and so on. The really scientific stations were placed outside the Dome in about a 5 km area around the Dome. These are the Ozone-Hole department, the stratospheric chemistry, the Asteroid and small cosmic particles experimental stations and several more with very complicated names. At the end of our visit we were given a visit-diploma and then we were invited into the canteen. This was a great pleasure for me, for because of the coldness I had already lost 7 kg of weight in the Antarctic. A request to take a shower was refused because of a water shortage but our clothes themselves were still relatively clean due to the absence of any dust or dirt in the Antarctic.
Exactly at 13.00 hours Z, the Priest Victor began to hold his Mass. A 9 ft. high Cross from Siberia which had been blessed by Pope John Paul II and also by Patriarch Alexei of Russia was erected at the South Pole. Drabo held a gold Maria-Icon and we stood behind together with guys from the US Station. Even in the low temperatures we didnīt feel so cold perhaps because God had sent us a lot of sunshine and it was still windless.
The Priest Victor, in a black religious garment with a big golden cross on his chest, celebrated the Mass in an unflappable manner using some McKay Nestle Crackers, but looking under his thick eyebrows at us, still hoping to discover the thief of his Siberian bread.
Priest Victor is a very dynamic man. He was an extreme skydiver (2 times to the North Pole and also once over Patriot Hills) and he had jumped in urgent cases into several Siberian villages. To look after the peoples living along the Trans-Siberian Railway, he had organised a "Priest-train" with different carriages (a church, living rooms, sleeping carriage, restaurant etc.). When he travelled on this Priest Railway trip, he normally stopped for 2-3 days in each station and worked through all the duties waiting for him (marriage ceremonies, funeral burial ceremonies and baptism duties etc). For a similar task Priest Victor also had a "Church-ship" for looking after the villagers along the Siberian rivers. I was really proud to know this very original priest.
With our minds filled with the many things we had seen, we cleaned up our camp and prepared everything for our departure. The Spanish Balloon Pilot Anulfo however continued to argue. He wanted to take back with him at least the balloon envelope as an important piece of ballooning history, but the US Station refused to transport any private goods. After a telephone call to his sponsor he declared that they wanted the Balloon envelope for a flight museum and they were ready to pay additional money for the transport. Anulfo discussed this again with Chukov, who was also trying to minimise the financial deficit of our expedition. Chukov accepted the proposal of Anulfo against the strong protest of all the other participants. However there remained open the option to leave the balloon envelope in the ice in the event of a serious breakdown. The guys of the US Station were lucky to get the historical basket for their bar as a proof of the first South Pole balloon flight.
Down hill and with less luggage, the buggies travelled nearly without problems. Additionally now that we had our success already in the pocket it also helped to speed us forward. Suddenly the weather worsened and a snow storm appeared. The strong wind which came, thank goodness from behind us increased double the coldness and brought snow drifts. In this high altitude the engines burnt the Diesel-gasoline mixture only partially and this strong tail wind forced the exhaust fumes partially back into the cabins of our buggies. Our US medical Doctor, Curtis Lieber lost his self control and refused strictly to continue the trip under these circumstances because of danger of poisoning. All the people were very tired and grumpy from the long lack of sleep , the coldness and the hunger. Some of the drivers were near to collapse. Chukov finally ordered a rest-stop. Like cadavers we over-nighted in the wretched cold buggies for some hours until the storm becomes quieter and the exhaust problem diminished.
Our plan which was to drive the remaining 320 km without a second overnight stop had nearly fatal consequences. Sasha, the unlucky driver from buggy 1, in which now dozed the Spanish guys, fell asleep and drove more than 20 minutes in his "Autopilot" position with a deviation of 10°! He was lucky that Drabo spoke periodically into the radio checking the situation of all the other drivers and buggies. After Sasha didnīt give a answer, everyone became nervous and we tried to find him. But in the blizzard conditions the visibility was very poor. We eventually Thanked God that Faustino had his own GPS and this helped Sasha to find us again.
On The 10th of January at 11.00 Z we entered the "Chukolac" camp to a loud ovation. They had a real Christmas tree (the only tree in the Antarctic) and we had a delicious noodle soup and a potato puree waiting for us. Usually we had only a choice of those two dishes, but for our welcome back Cook Igor had made both! The rest of the Spanish crew complained that they had been building a wonderful snow castle, but unfortunately the lazy cook Igor had used their snow-bricks for melted water for his kitchen and so they could only show us the foundations of their snow castle. I was pleased to hear that Ernst and 4 other guys had been evacuated by a rescue pilot of ANI, which lead me to think about the possibility of taking back my previously abandoned balloon. Chukov showed some generosity and said O.K. With the possibility of now using this balloon in April during my North Pole Millennium expedition I happily agreed and gave him my thanks.
Once again all together the 8 buggies rolled quickly down hills like "horses to the stable" in the direction of our Base camp. Of course we had some more breakdowns, but those were not able to shock us anymore. Firstly our mechanics had improved greatly so that they now easily managed any breakdown situation and secondly we were already calm and knew that with so much motivation, that we were ready to continue on foot if it became necessary. After a second violent snow storm, which had destroyed the radio antenna and damaged the tents at Patriot Hills, we finally reached our Base camp at Patriot Hills on the 13th of January at 10.00 h Z. We arrived to loud cheering and complete with all our 8 buggies. The joy at seeing each other again let us forgot the bitter memories of the past. The accomplished task proved once again that with a common spirit, skilled people, perseverance, tenacity, patience, some adventurness and a big portion of luck and with the help of God the seemingly impossible can become reality.
The last hurdle was still in front of us the evacuation from the Antarctic itself. Our Illuyshin-76 plane was waiting at Punta Arenas ready for our call, but the weather instead worsened. I imagined that if this icy snow storm had come during our long period of many repairs on the trip, we certainly would have been close to repeating the destiny of Robert Scott. I longed and yearned for a hot sauna. My underwear stuck to my body and I could barely wait to feel a shower on my skin. For 5 long days the blizzard raged on with its frosty breath. Because we did not have any power over wind and weather, we finally got the opportunity for a good nights sleep. I wrote my notices properly into my diary with a half frozen pen. On the 15th of January we visited a wreck of a DC 6 aircraft which in 1993 had crashed only 7 km from our camp during a snow storm. It had been transporting cargo and sledge dogs for the polar expedition of Norman Vaughn. We dug down nearly 6 foot into the snow and discovered the broken cockpit window, through which we crawled inside into the fuselage. We found there were still boxes with food, full gasoline drums and many large ice crystals. It was quite dark and through the side widows a blue light gave everything a ghostly atmosphere. Without touching anything we went out and buried again the entry with snow.
On the 16th of January we had a short "good weather" window, but it was too short for our plane which needed at least 6 hours to fly here. It would be a big problem for us if our plane operating under our instructions came for us but before landing here the weather should quickly change enough to make the aircraft to return to Chile without landing. The 7000 km flight costs a lot of money and a mistake of this kind was not provided for in the limited budget of the expedition.
But for my ballooning spirit this window of opportunity was enough to try to fly again my "rescued cloudhopper" balloon. I asked the Spanish to pass me the last full gas cylinder, which had been left in the middle camp on the way to the pole because of our weight problems. They however sold it to me! (what shame, after all I had done for them!) This gas had already been paid for by their sponsor. I succeeded in making in the incredibly windless weather conditions a balloon flight with 12 landings (5 minutes for each flight), exchanging passengers as a kind of thanks to our buggy drivers and a thanks also to the staff of ANI, who helped us kindly and who documented the flight with electronic pictures in their guest book. One of those passengers was Capt. Art Mortvedt from Alaska (a regular DELTA pilot, who spends his holidays as a Antarctic rescue pilot for ANI), who had evacuated Ernst from the middle camp. I flew with him over the clouds and he was so enthusiastic about ballooning, that he immediately caught the "Balloonitis" illness and said to me: "This is fantastic to float in the sky! I will sell this year one of my private planes and will buy a balloon!"
Such kind of words made my spirit very happy because I make it a duty in my life to help whenever possible to promote to all people the beauty of our sport. I compare ballooning with the proverb. "People are delivered to their destiny like a balloon is to the wind". They can go up like a balloon by giving their life a new direction. A wrong course will take us into the storms of our life, which is everytime confronted with the unknown and this presents the biggest adventure of all. A capacity to be adaptable is like a balloon is to the wind and helps a person decide on a positive life.
Finally on the 17th of January in the afternoon the weather again became stable enough. Immediately we ordered our plane by satellite phone. Our "Millennium Blue Ice Camp" was dismantled and all the rubbish was stored in hermetically sealed plastic drums and all our snow holes were levelled and all other traces removed. Our buggies were also dismantled and prepared for transportation as air cargo.
Eagerly we looked into the sky looking for our coming plane. Finally it appeared with a majestic approach and landed with a load roar which lifted my spirit with happiness to the sky, on the "Blue Ice Runway". This aircraft meant the end of our coldness and the frostiness and once again a hot shower, well cooked food and in a single word back to "civilisation".
Suddenly however a DC3 plane on skis landed near the ANI camp. It carried a NASA scientific expedition led by the famous US Astronauts Jim Lovell (Apollo 8 and 13) and Owen Garriott (Space Lab and Sky Lab) which had been searching around the Thiel Mountains (near our "Chukolak" camp) for meteorites. We were very happy to have these uncomplicated and friendly guys as guests in our plane, because they took the opportunity to fly together with us home. With pure "Vodka" and the rest of our Crackers and chocolate we easily found a quick friendship and communication.
" Did you find any meteorites?" I asked curiously. "Yes, of course, from one small one up to one the size of the head of a baby" answered Owen.
"And now be honest, did you see life on the opposite side of the Moon?"- I drilled Jim.
"This must stay my big secret, I cannot speak about this" he smiled confusingly, looking down at his feet. After that we exchanged our last Expedition patches, actually cutting them from our polar jackets.
On the 18th of January at 3.00 h AM Chilean time, we quickly descended like a plague of locusts onto the small "Bulnes" hotel in Punta Arenas. Even after the hot water boiler had become empty in 10 minutes, the cold water shower continued to afford its luxury to our dirty bodies and catapulted those with its absolute delights! Fresh underwear, summer clothes, removing of beards and long hair. We really had great difficulties to recognise each other the next day. Again we were in the real world back where money and thinking of power and dominance determines peoples behaviour.
When I hold a globe in my hands I feel like I am embracing our mother Earth, which we must keep for ever in love and harmony as the clean cradle of the human being. If I let my gaze wander from the North to the South Pole, those two "White spots" on the map arise in me emotions and happy memories of the extreme polar adventurers who all have a wish for peace and tolerance for all the nations, races and religions which are placed between these two Poles.
In a United Nations Organisation document there is a memorandum, which all participants wrote that the Polar regions should serve as a peace message to the whole world, looking in the face of this in each direction a clean continent.
Monsieur Jules Verne, the grand master of adventure once said
"What we donīt really experience, we soon forget."
Dipl.Ing.Ivan Andreī Trifonov (Polar Balloon Pilot)
1100 Vienna, Wien
Felix Grafe Gasse 4 / 147 / 7
Tel./Fax 0043 1 688 13 87
A great thanks to the sponsor "max.mobil", for the great and unconditional sponsoring of this expedition.
The following records were achieved during this expedition:
First hot air balloon flight over the South Pole.
First Skydiver jump from a balloon over the Antarctic (85° parallel)
The most Number of balloon flights in Antarctica ( 3 big , 27 small)
Quickest land travel from the Antarctic coast to the South Pole ( 5 days).
Biggest mass skydive jump over the Antarctic
Highest balloon flight in the Antarctic ( 15,200 ft)
First woman in a balloon over the Antarctic ( Mrs. Ye Kuyung Kim Korean TV reporter)
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