Magazine article Risk Management

Up, Up and Away

Magazine article Risk Management

Up, Up and Away

Article excerpt

A few years ago, my wife flew over the North Pole on her way to China. When our kids learned of this, they quizzed their mom about what she saw out her window. Did she see Santa's workshop? How many elves were there? Was Santa flying around in his sleigh? Even I had to ask, what exactly did the North Pole look like?

When my wife told me that it was just an endless expanse of white ground, I was secretly disappointed. I guess that deep down I really hoped there would be a red and white barber's pole marking the spot, like I had seen in countless cartoons.

There is something about the North Pole that captivates the imagination and not just during the Christmas season. It is the kind of place that attracts explorers, adventurers and people who have something to prove against one of the world's harshest environments. Surely this was the case in the late 1800s, when much of the Northern Hemisphere was obsessed with exploring the Arctic.

At that time, nobody had laid eyes on the North Pole, so there was much speculation as to what was really there. Most thought there was a polar sea through which ships could navigate. Some even thought there might be a tropical zone that would be a paradise for those able to find it. Thus, the North Pole became the subject of a 19th century space race, with every nation in the Arctic Circle banking its prestige on who could get there first.

Representing Sweden was Salomon August Andree, a patent clerk, inventor and balloon enthusiast who was convinced that dangerous land and sea efforts to reach the pole were unnecessary. He planned to fly a hot-air balloon, along with two assistants, from the island of Svalbard to the pole, then on to Siberia, Canada or Alaska. His plan captured the hearts and minds of his fellow countrymen (including King Oscar II and Alfred Nobel), who collectively bankrolled the expedition. He figured the trip to the pole itself might take two days, but depending on where he landed, it might take a year or more to return to civilization.

Unfortunately, Andree was more Evel Knievel than Steve Fossett. In his previous balloon flights, he repeatedly ended up lost, nearly landed in the ocean and crashed so many times he broke numerous bones. …

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