As they wait to be picked up, they continue to dive

Published on 05.05.2010 - Under the Pole.com

The operation to collect Ghislain Bardout and his companions appears to be far from straightforward. And as the pilots at Ken Borek's airline company continue to analyse the situation, the members of Bardout's expedition continue to dive beneath the ice.

The problems dogging the recovery mission to pick up the Deepsea Under The Pole.com team are as follows:

  1. The expedition consists of eight members carrying extremely heavy diving equipment. A few days ago, Ken Borek was looking at the possibility of sending a trusty DC3 on site to do the pick up. But on analysing the satellite maps (which currently show the thickness of the ice as around ten metres), he could see that the thickness of the pack-ice where the expedition has come to a final halt was not great enough to allow an aircraft weighing over ten tons to land.
  2. This meant that Borek's pilots had to turn to the solution provided by the Twin Otter. But this also entails problems. On the one hand, they would need at least two planes to go and collect the team and all their gear. Then there is the fact that the group is located at around 88° North. This is a long way from the coast– in fact over 250 kilometres from Ward Hunt.
  3. This would mean setting up fuel dumps for the two Twin Otters. But the condition of the pack-ice this year is such that this would be a hazardous operation in itself on account of the unusual level of ice break-up. Also, in terms of landing along the way, there's no-one to recce the location -except for the pilots, and they could only do so at the last moment. Then, no-one really knows if a barrel of fuel dropped off at a particular location would still be in the same place a few hours later when the plane came back to refuel. And as the ice is now breaking up more and more, it could be that in the space of just a few hours -and before the plane could return- the barrel then disappears forever into the icy depths of the Arctic Ocean, swallowed by a sudden lead opening up. In addition, no-one knows whether the condition of the ice would be suited to a landing at any given time and whether it would still be the same to allow a second landing when the Twin Otter came back to refuel so that it could continue its flight.
  4. All this is no doubt why Ghislain Bardout and his team are stranded at 88° North and have now been waiting for over ten days for the pick-up operation to be organised from Resolute Bay. In their daily updates, the men are focusing on the dives they are still doing day after day -and on the marvels and delights these dives are bringing to all of the team members. Two things are sure, though: the level of tension must be slowly increasing in the minds of the team; and the pick-up operation will put a huge hole in the expedition's finances.

While we have dwelt somewhat on this difficult operation to recover an expedition, there is no doubt that any problems will only increase as time passes. A few years ago, in 2007, during the total crossing of the Arctic pack-ice achieved by the Belgians, Alain Hubert and Dixie Dansercoer, we made mention of the fact that trans-Arctic polar adventures were facing their swansong. Of course, they won't be stopping for good just yet, but the time is not very far away now when no explorers will be able to lay claim to a crossing of any kind of the Arctic pack-ice on foot.

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