Thursday, 27 March 2008

Hannah's North Pole record bid ends in drama

A BID by adventurer Hannah McKeand to become the first woman to reach the North Pole solo and unsupported came to a dramatic end after she had to be rescued from the ice by the Royal Canadian Air Force.
Hannah, aged 34, who was brought up in Watchet, where her mother Julian Burbury still lives, had fallen into an eight feet deep crevasse and injured herself so badly that she could not continue.
Mrs Burbury learned the news at home in Watchet when Hannah was able to ring and leave a telephone answering message on Saturday after being rescued.
She told The Post she would be flying out to see her daughter as soon as she was able to locate to which hospital Hannah had been taken.
Mrs Burbury thought it unlikely that Hannah would want to have a second attempt at the record.
She said: “I think she is sensible. She has tested herself to the limit. I think with a bit of persuasion she will realise that one world record of that kind is enough (Hannah set a record two years ago when she became the fastest person to ski solo to the South Pole).”
The Arctic expedition came to an end during the Easter weekend and as The Post went to press, Hannah was believed to be recovering in a Canadian hospital, although her exact whereabouts were not known.
She was two weeks into the journey when she climbed a pile of ice blocks to scout the view ahead of her and without warning the snow gave way and Hannah fell sideways into a deep hole.
In the fall, Hannah wrenched her left leg and also hurt her lower back and left shoulder.
Hannah had already suffered several falls previously because of poor weather conditions and on one occasion she injured her shoulder but had been able to continue her journey.
This time, however, it took Hannah an hour to drag herself out of the crevasse and she knew immediately that her injuries were more severe.
She was able to contact the expedition doctor and took medical advice and medication and she then set camp and spent all day on Good Friday resting and assessing her condition.
By Easter Saturday, Hannah was still in considerable pain and her mobility was restricted, so she knew she was not up to dragging her pulk another 380 nautical miles over the Arctic.
Although she was out of immediate danger in her tent with warmth, food, and shelter from her own equipment and supplies, the longer she stayed put, the fewer supplies she would have for the remainder of the journey.
The expedition’s operations manager, Steve Jones, said: “Physical injuries are a high risk to polar expeditions and several North Pole expeditions have had a member of the expedition evacuated.
“Obviously, in a team of one that does not leave many to continue.
“I can only imagine how disappointed and frustrated Hannah is, but it is a tribute to her strength of character that she sounds cheerful and in good spirits on the Iridium phone.”
Hannah was able to call for help and a Canadian Forces rescue helicopter managed to land on the rough Arctic ice pack and airlift her to safety.
She was first flown to Alert, a remote Canadian government station on northern Ellesmere Island, from where she was taken to Resolute Bay, on Cornwallis Island, also in the northern Nunavut Territory.
After that, she was flown south for medical care and a full assessment of her condition, and is believed to have reached Toronto.
The final few days of the expedition had seen Hannah make slow progress in the difficult terrain and in one 8.5-hour day she had travelled just 1.5 nautical miles, which she reported had been ‘horrible’.
Her Argos satellite tracking beacon had also stopped working which left her dependent on two Iridium satellite phones for communications with the outside world.
Despite all her efforts in temperatures as low as minus 45 degrees, Hannah had only travelled a total of about 33.5 nautical miles and still had another 380 to reach the Pole.

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