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In 1999 plans were announced by a Russian based but multi-nationally funded organisation to conduct a series of Antarctic events under the name of "Millennium 2000 Antarctic Expedition" or "Mil 2000" for short. Their main aims comprised both sky diving and hot air balloon operations at the South Pole on the 1st of January 2000 to see in the new Millennium. In support of these aims they had their own aircraft (an Illuyshin -76) and a group of  eight 6-wheeled "snow bugs" land vehicles.

The Expedition set out from Moscow on the 16th of December 1999 on board a Illuyshin-76 aircraft as shown below bound for Punta Arenas in Southern Chile where other members of the expedition joined up.

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The expedition had made arrangements with Adventure Network International to make use of their facilities at Punta Arenas and more importantly at the blue ice landing strip at Patriot Hills in Antarctica which is about half way from Punta Arenas to the South Pole.

The whole party consisted of 88 participants from 18 different countries including 32 skydivers according to Valera Beloussov, the Vice President of the organising committee.  A part of the expedition was a Belgian Mountaineering expedition to Mount Vinson and they left Punta Arenas on the 22nd of December for Patriot Hills.  You can see a separate page on their expedition here.  Bad weather in Antarctica before Christmas meant that most of the expeditioneers did not fly south from Punta Arenas until Christmas Day or the next two days.

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MIL2000 1    2000 (January 1st) cover from Millennium 2000 Antarctic Expedition.    Price US$5

Note: this cover was postmarked at Punta Arenas ,  in Southern Chile where the Expedition based itself prior to flying to Patriot Hills.  Regular flights from Patriot Hills back to Punta Arenas by either the Mil 2000 Illuyshin-76 or Adventure Network International's aircraft meant that most mail from the expedition was posted at Punta Arenas.

Problems with a lack of fuel and bad weather meant that plans for the sky diving team to jump from the South Pole on New Year's day  were abandoned and instead all 32 parachutists/skydivers participated in a drop at Patriot Hills on new year's day.

The cover at right bears the two expedition cachets of the Mil 2000 skydiving team and is dated 1st January 2000, the date of the jump.

The cover has been postmarked at Ushuaia, Southern Argentina on the 13th of January after the party returned from the Antarctic.   the black cachet "Block Horario 2"  is an Argentinean marking.

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MIL2000 2    2000 (January 13th) cover from Millennium Antarctic Skydiving expedition.    Price US$5

On the 3rd of January 31 members  of the party departed from Patriot Hills in the eight "Snow Bugs"for the 1,100 km trip overland to the South Pole. Because of overloading and a series of breakdowns this party was split up at the Thiel Mountains with 4 "Snow Bugs" and 16 people remaining there while the other 4 "Snow Bugs" and 15 people continued on to the South Pole.

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The "Snow Bugs" as shown at left are remarkable vehicles with 6 large inflated tyres which give a very light footprint on the snow and thus are ideal for soft snow or areas with crevasses. Only the middle pair of wheels are normally used for drive although 4 wheels have drive shafts fitted.

During the journey to the pole all 14 replacement gear boxes were put into use. They used 3 different engines with the Volvo being more reliable than the Volkswagen and Minsk engines.

The four "Snow Bugs" finally arrived at the South Pole late on the 7th of January 2000.

The "Snow Bugs" on arrival at the South Pole demonstrated their light footprint by running over some American volunteers.

A feat which brought great applause by those watching.

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Immediately on arrival the Expedition unpacked their Hot Air Balloon and proceeded to make a series of short flights while the fine weather remained.

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This photo shows the Mil 2000 Hot Air Balloon undertaking its first flight at the South Pole in the early hours of the 8th of January, 2000.

This is the first ever hot air balloon flight at the South Pole. The view at left shows the Cameron 66 Balloon with the ceremonial South Pole in the foreground and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station dome in the background.

The flags are those of Antarctic Treaty nations which are usually flown around the ceremonial South Pole.

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MIL2000 3    2000 (January 1st) cover from Millennium Antarctic Balloon flight.    Price US$5

Note: The above cover bears a special cachet of the Austrian balloon pilot Ivan Andre Trifonov and is also autographed by him. It was postmarked at Punta Arenas on the Ist January before leaving for the South Pole. 

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The "Snow Bug" working as the balloon chase vehicle is shown at left broken down.

It was however quickly repaired and retrieved the balloon.


The design at right is from a New Years

Millennium greeting card from Ivan Trifonov,  Balloon pilot who flew on the South Pole Millennium flight.

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MIL2000 4    2000 (January 8th) cover from Millennium Antarctic Balloon flight.    Price US$8

Note: The above cover has the two South Pole cachets as shown at right on its reverse. The cachets and the postmarking has been done at the United States Post Office in the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

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MIL2000 5    2000 (January 8th) cover from Millennium Antarctic South Pole Expedition    Price US$8

Note: This cover bears the two cachets of the Mil 2000 expedition itself including the dated handstamp.  The cover also has the same two backstamps as the previous cover Mil2000 4.

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Mil 2000 Expedition Patch

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Mil 2000 Expedition Sticker

Note: We do not have any of the two items above for sale.

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MIL2000 6    2000 (January 8th) cover from Millennium Antarctic South Pole Expedition    Price US$10

Note: This cover has been autographed by the two main Expedition leaders Vladimir Drabo of Belarus and Vladimir Chukov of Russia.

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The scan at left shows the three cachets on the reverse of the above cover.

The Max balloon flew to 200 or 300 feet before returning to the surface for several flights all within a few hours to make sure all those wanting a flight were able to. On the first flight flew the Austrian Ivan Trifonov, and the Spanish Anulfo Gonzalez  and Faustino Mortera (Both from Spain) who all took turns at piloting the balloon. After packing up and a short visit to the American Base, the Mil Expedition's 4 "Snow Bugs" left the South Pole at 4pm on the 8th of January for the return trip back to Patriot Hills via the Thiel Mountains to pick up the other 4 "Snow Bugs" and other members of the expedition who had been left there.   The whole party arrived back at Patriot Hills base camp on the 15th of January. 

Most members returned to Punta Arenas on the Illuyshin-76 flight on the 17th of January while the last expedition members did not leave Patriot Hills until the 27th of January according to Valera Beloussov.

We have an exclusive selection of other photos from this expedition which can be seen here

Further details about this expedition can be found on their own web site by clicking here

A special article about this expedition written by Balloonist Ivan Trifonov can be found here

A special article about this expedition written by Balloonist Steven Vlegels can be found here

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