A Crossing Other Than Planned

Published on 09.04.2010 - Generali Arctic Observer

International Polar Foundation

International Polar Foundation

© International Polar Foundation

At the time when we're writing these words, Jean-Louis Etienne is heading for Siberia. And not for Alaska, as envisaged.

Three days after leaving the Svalbard Archipelago (Monday morning at 05:09 UT), the French doctor/explorer, Jean-Louis Etienne, arrived in the North Pole area on 07 April at around 18:00. He had done everything he could with the navigation instruments aboard his balloon to pass over the Pole but the wind decided otherwise, and the balloon missed the legendary place - at 88° 207 NR, i.e. at approximately 200 kilometres from the Pole, which is a fairly long way if you consider the initial plan. Here are some extracts from his official press releases: "20:30: It was a Jean-Louis Etienne with a tired voice, after 15 hours of piloting under testing conditions, who shared with us his joy of having successfully crossed the Pole. It's true that the storm, the low-altitude flight and the sudden changes of mood of his balloon did not make the task easy for the explorer. Christophe Houver, the person in charge of the flight, full of admiration, says that Jean-Louis has become a very experienced pilot. Appointment tomorrow morning for the night's feedback. 19:55: North Pole crossed at around 18:00! Jean-Louis Etienne has just passed really close to the legendary place. Find him again live at 20:45 precisely..."

After the North Pole, the programme - and the Belgian router Luc Trullemans as well - expected that the balloon's route would take him towards a landing somewhere in Alaska, so that he would have covered as great a distance as possible above the pack ice (for scientific observation purposes). But, here again, Eolus saw things differently: it was indeed towards Alaska  that Jean-Louis Etienne's balloon was heading. But the wind was not the only factor that was pushing the magnificent man in his flying machine in a direction that he didn't want to take. On 08 April, when the balloon was approaching the Siberian coast, the press release specified: "Energy problem on board. This first feat accomplished (Editor's note: Flying over of North Pole area), Jean-Louis Etienne was hoping to find calmer conditions and to be able to rest a little by gaining altitude. But a nasty surprise was awaiting him in the polar night. Because of yesterday's blizzard, his solar panels were unable to recharge his batteries properly. A problematic lack of energy that obliged Jean-Louis Etienne to gain altitude in order to find some sun. "He went up to an altitude of 3,000 metres in order to recharge the batteries", Christophe Houver, Flight Co-ordinator, explained. "By saving his consumption, he had a comfortable 48-hour operating range. Neither the flight nor his safety was jeopardised. We just made arrangements so that the flight could proceed more or less normally. Consequently, the fact of gaining altitude moved him off the ideal trajectory (Editor's note: towards Alaska). He has turned right and this significant deviation will now take him towards Siberia instead of the North American Continent. But that doesn't change much in terms of the flight. He's going to cover about 3,000 km across the Arctic Ocean."

The end of the flight is planned for Saturday, 10 April.

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