HK adventurers end up in a hole lot of trouble

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 September, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 September, 2007, 12:00am

After a brush with death, trio airlifted from ill-fated trek

An intrepid trio set off across the Greenland ice cap in the steps of Fridtjof Nansen, inspired by the Norwegian explorer's battle cry, 'Death or the west coast'.

But the Hong Kong adventurers were forced to abort their 700km trek through the hostile environment following a catalogue of mishaps that brought them much closer to death than to their destination.

Britons David Jessop, 36, and Steve Wright, 39, and American Brice Minnigh, 37, set off on a five-week journey from the east coast Inuit village of Isortoq , hauling sleds with all their supplies, including just enough food to last the journey.

After enduring 35 days of relentless blizzards, white-outs and headwinds on severe rations and narrowly escaping dangerous icefalls, their food began to run out. They used their satellite phone to arrange a helicopter food drop in a bid to complete the remaining 170km to Eqi on the west coast.

However, because the Greenland pilots would not fly very far over the ice cap for safety reasons, the food was dropped several days' hike further west.

'We were warned that the area was surrounded by crevasses and given a route to the food that would detour around them,' Jessop said.

The next morning, after the trio set out in clear weather across a platform of snow, Jessop suddenly plummeted into a hidden crevasse, dragging two sleds down with him. He landed, still conscious, on an ice ledge 20 to 30 metres down.

'I was certain that I was falling to my death,' he said. 'I could hear a sound like glass shattering and realised that this was ice stalactites and stalagmites being smashed as I crashed into them on the way down. At some point I realised that I was no longer falling.'

He managed to cut himself free from one of the sleds dangling below him, and Wright and Minnigh lowered a harness down through the hole to pull him out.

His rescuers realised as he was clearing the top of the crevasse that they were asphyxiating him and slackened the rope.

Wright said: 'We pulled and pulled and he popped out of the ice. He just lay there and he wasn't looking too good. I think the rope had slipped around his neck. We didn't know that we were choking him as we were pulling him up. But he was OK.'

Their remaining food was lost down the crevasse with the sleds and their solar-powered phone had run down, so they were forced to wait for three days in freezing conditions, eating their last chocolate bars and drinking a foul butter, tabasco and pepper concoction in melted snow.

'On the third day, all that was left was a small packet of jelly beans and I handed these out evenly to the lads,' Jessop said. That day, there was enough power in the phone to call for an emergency pickup and they were airlifted off the ice after 40 days.

As they flew towards the coast, Jessop said they were 'sickened' to see the land below them riddled with thousands of crevasses.

'It was obvious that it would have been suicidal to have tried to continue along our route to the coast.'

On arrival, authorities in Ilulissat said that no one had attempted the same route in late summer in the past 20 years.

There had been one successful crossing in spring, involving the use of para-wings .

After training in the vodka freezer of a Russian restaurant in Tsim Sha Tsui, the three had mounted a successful expedition to the North Pole in 2004, which raised HK$150,000 for eye-care charity Orbis.

They aimed to raise about HK$140,000 for Orbis through the Greenland expedition, to buy equipment for eight eye-care stations in Inner Mongolia .

They have so far received HK$50,000, and collections will continue until next month.

Pledges can be made by e-mail to

Long haul

The distance covered by the trio 530km