Monday 21 May 2018

Explorer dies following in Shackleton's footsteps

Adventurer was just 30 miles from completing epic Antarctic crossing

Henry Worsley. Photo: PA
Henry Worsley. Photo: PA
Ernest Shackleton. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Gordon Rayner

Three months ago Henry Worsley set out to pay the ultimate tribute to Irish explorer Ernest Shackleton by completing the epic Antarctic crossing his lifelong hero was forced to abandon in 1916.

The former SAS officer, operating solo and unaided, managed to drag himself and his equipment 913 miles across the ice, but despite the benefit of modern technology he discovered to his cost that Antarctica remains the same perilous and unforgiving place it was a century ago.

Like another of his idols, Robert Falcon Scott, he found himself trapped by exhaustion, illness and extreme cold when within touching distance of safety. Having been airlifted to hospital on Friday, his "heartbroken" wife announced yesterday that the expedition had cost him his life.

As his friend, Prince William led tributes to him, fellow explorers suggested Mr Worsley's "extraordinary" journey would place him in the pantheon of Antarctic pioneers alongside the men he was trying to emulate.

Ernest Shackleton's granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton, said Mr Worsley's death was a "huge loss to the adventuring world", while the polar explorer, David Hempleman-Adams, said that the attempt to make the first solo, unaided and unassisted crossing of the continent was "absolutely phenomenal".

Mr Worsley (55), the father of two children, set out to cross the Antarctic using the same route that Shackleton had planned, aiming to raise money for the Endeavour Fund. A descendant of Frank Worsley, the captain of Shackleton's ship the Endurance, he was a veteran of two Antarctic expeditions.

From the very beginning, however, he began to experience the sort of ill fate and appalling weather which his heroes had battled against, frequently having to stop for days at a time to wait out blizzards and storms.

He encountered "hellish soft snow", countless whiteouts, temperatures of -44C and lost one of his front teeth in an accident.

Last week, just 30 miles (48km) from the finish line and after 71 days of relentless slog, he found he could go no further.

His last dispatch from the Antarctic evoked the courage and stoicism of the great Edwardian explorers when he said: "A gradual grinding down of my physical endurance finally took its toll today, and it is with sadness that I report it is journey's end - so close to my goal."

Having called for help on his satellite phone, he was airlifted to hospital in Chile, where he was found to be suffering from exhaustion, dehydration and bacterial peritonitis, an inflammation of the abdomen that can cause sepsis. He underwent surgery and his wife, Joanna, flew to South America, but before she got to the hospital in Punta Arenas he died from complete organ failure.

Mrs Worsley (56) said it was with "heartbroken sadness" that she announced her husband's death on "his courageous final challenge", adding: "Henry achieved his Shackleton Solo goals: of raising over £100,000 for the Endeavour Fund, to help his wounded colleagues, and so nearly completing the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic land mass … under exceptionally difficult weather conditions."

The Endeavour Fund supports injured British veterans who want to take up an adventurous challenge as a way of helping their rehabilitation.

Paul Rose, base commander for the British Antarctic Survey for 10 years, described Mr Worsley's expedition as "unheard of".

He added: "It's a tremendous journey . . . conditions haven't changed from Shackleton's days. The Antarctic is still an incredibly hostile place. I thought he would cruise the last little bit, but when the system gets that run down then all kinds of things begin to happen." (Daily Telegraph, London)

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