Week from 22 to 28 April


Saturday 27& Sunday 28 April (day 62 & 63) :

Latest scenario (Sunday 11 am)

The arrangements for picking-up the two men have changed yet again since yesterday (see our withdrawal map).
An MI 8 helicopter will leave tomorrow about noon with a cameraman on board for Chelyushkin (3 hours' flight) then will fly approximately 300 km (2 hours' flight) to drop fuel, and where the cameraman will remain on standby. Then the MI 8 will fly back to Chelyushkin.
During that time, an Antonov 2 will take off tonight from the Barneo base, and then land in Stredny and wait for the MI to drop the fuel. Then it will take off from Stredny tomorrow at around 3 p.m. to fly the approximately 750-800 km to the Compaq Pole II camp (approximately 4 to 6 hours' flight). On this subject, Dixie and Alain have found an excellent runway that they will mark out tomorrow to facilitate the landing of the single-engined plan. Landing is scheduled for around 9 p.m. (expedition time, or 2 p.m. in Brussels).
On its way back, the Antonov 2 will refuel at the dump, and pick up the cameraman at the same time. The team's return is planned for Tuesday at around 3 a.m. at Khatanga (Monday 9 p.m., Brussels time). The team should be back in Brussels on 2 May at 1 p.m.

More changes (Saturday 4 p.m.):

The latest news is that it will not be helicopters that will be flying to the expedition's camp, but the Antonov 2. The pilots were worried that the range of the MI 8 (1200 km) would not be sufficient. Even with the fuel dump, it seems.
With the fuel dump 300 km from Chelyushkin, that would have meant 1146 km of flying without refuelling: the men are currently 723 km from so the flight would consist of flying to where the expedition is now (723 km) + the return to the fuel dump (723 km - 300 km = 423 km), making a total of 1146 km which, according to the Russian pilots, is uncomfortably close to the range limit of the MI 8. The pick-up is scheduled for Monday - if everything goes according to plan. Other information will come in later today, or failing that, tomorrow.

The ultimate in frustration ... (Saturday 3 p.m.)

While we are awaiting confirmation of the pick-up for tomorrow, Sunday at the end of the day (their time, midday in Brussels), you have to admit that the two Belgians have seen just about everything during their adventure.
Judge for yourself: since they decided to abandon the idea of reaching the Pole and to get themselves picked up, the expedition has made better progress than ever. In the last four days, Alain and Dixie will have travelled an impressive 89 km towards the northeast, even though they were "waiting" in the tent for two of those days! That makes an average of over 22 km per day. A favourable wind and a strong drift in the right direction, a milder temperature (-18°C today) - which is not helping the duo to make any further progress, but is a morale-booster - fine weather. In other words, the kind of conditions they did not see during the first 58 days of the expedition. It really is annoying!

Friday 26 April (day 61) : It'll be on Sunday…

For the latest news coming from Katanga via Paris, it seems that we are moving towards a flight with only one helicopter (MID 8) from Khatanga, as the other two available civil helicopters are still at the Barneo base, blocked by bad weather.

The flight will be leaving Khatanga on Sunday morning, and will need ten to twelve hours of flying time to accomplish the operation. And this, according to the diagram indicated on our map of the return, with a deposit of fuel made an hour or two from Tchelyouschkine.

In this case, Dixie Dansercoer and Alain Hubert will probably be back in Belgium by Tuesday, Thursday or Friday. We will of course keep visitors informed throughout the weekend.

Thursday 25 April (day 60) : It will be by helicopter from Khatanga via Tchelyouskine... (see our map of the withdrawall).

So the decision came about during the night: the recovery operation will be by helicopter leaving from Khatanga via Tchelyouskine. For a better view of the routes and distances, we have plotted the details of the flights and places on our new map (see the map of the withdrawal).

So why was the Antonov 2 option (the easiest to organise) finally rejected? Because that machine is too sensitive to de-icing of its windows. And between Cape Arktichewski, from where the Antonov 2 would have left (Stredny Island, more precisely) and the position of the expedition's last camp, it would have had to have flown over too much interstitial water - consequently, running the risk of reaching the area with the machine's windows completely iced up. Too dangerous. Therefore the helicopter (MI 8) option was adopted.

Recovery could have taken place as of this weekend but, this morning, some hellishly bad weather was announced at the Barneo base from where one of the two helicopters taking part in the pick-up has to come. So weather itself will decide the day and time when the helicopters will take off.

Alain and Dixie should nevertheless be back home in Belgium next week.

Wednesday 24 April (day 59) : Decision … quite soon !

The decision about the team's recovery arrangements will be made this evening. The people in charge of Cerpolex (logistics) are discussing the final details of the operation with the Russian pilots in Katanga.

It would seem in any case that there would be some preference for a double flight in the MI 8 helicopter with a fuel drop on the way, rather than in the Antonov 2, as the Russian single-engine aircraft is extremely sensitive to the difficulties of de-icing that are likely to arise considering the large number of leads to be found on the Cape Arktichewski route - the latest position of Compaq Pole II. But the exact time of the operation is still unknown. Further information tomorrow morning, probably.

Meanwhile, here is Jacques Theodor's fascinating paper on the age-old controversy that for nearly a century has been setting the clan of Frederick A. Cook and against that of Robert E Peary.

Who reached the North Pole first ?
Cook (on the left) ou Peary (on the right) ?
Since then, it's an endless controversy. antarctica.org takes stock

Tuesday 23 April (day 58) : The explorers are waiting…

Much discussion and questions, one suspects, about the way in which the team will be picked up on the ice.

According to the latest information received, it seems that operating from Stredny-Arktichewski is too risky - too many leads (stretches of open water) both for parachuting fuel and for landing the Antonov 2.

So another solution has to be found. Which is why the people in charge of Cepolex are currently talking to the Russian pilots in Katanga about a possible flight, by helicopter this time, between Tiksi and the place where the expedition is to be found, according to the latest news, and why no decision has yet been taken. And all the more so as Alain and Dixie have just today found a gigantic sheet of ice, sufficiently long and thick to enable an Antonov 2 to land; it is a new piece of information that must from now on be taken into account for any future decision.

From today, the men have in any case decided to remain on the spot and to see how things turn out. It is -18°C, but it still feels cold because of a south-easterly wind blowing at about 20 mph.

Monday 22 April (day 57) : 14km covered but still no ice solid enough for a landing.

Alain Alain and Dixie are naturally extremely disappointed by the turn of events since last Thursday but they know that they made every effort possible to bring their adventure to a successful conclusion. And they are still doing so; trying in this instance to cover as many kilometres as possible since this was the mission that HQ had given so that they could get as close to Cape Arktichewski as possible. The proof: 14 kilometres covered today in the midst of still new ice.
Admittedly, they could well have located some ground today that could have accommodated the landing of the Antonov 2, but the ice was only about 30 cm thick.

Wednesday, We'll publish the promised case file on the hundred-year-old
controversy between Peary and Cook. Which of the two of them
was the first to reach the North Pole?
Did one of them in fact never reach it?


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