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Tue, Dec 23, 2003

'Polar First' Crash Survivors On The Mend

The intrepid globe-trotting team of Jennifer Murray and Colin Bodill have survived their Antarctic Bell 407 crash.... the following is the latest update on their recovery and the circumstances surrounding their unfortunate, weather-related, accident.

22 December 2003 - Update On The Progress Of Jennifer and Colin

Helicopter pilots Jennifer Murray and Colin Bodill are in hospital in the Chilean city of Punta Arenas recovering from Saturday’s accident on the northern section of the Ronne Ice Shelf in Antarctica.

Colin has a fracture to the lumbar 1 vertebrae, which will require an operation. He is in a stable and improving condition and awaiting the necessary surgery, which is due to take place tomorrow (Tuesday). His condition was treated as a back injury from the start, so all necessary precautions were taken while he was transported from the crash site to the mission’s Patriot Hills base camp and then on to Punta Arenas.

The crash came one-third of the way through Jennifer and Colin’s attempt to break a world record by flying around the world pole to pole in a helicopter. The Polar First Challenge team still intends to submit a claim for the speed record for flying from New York to the South Pole in a helicopter.

Jennifer Murray said: “We set off in good flying conditions from our base camp at Patriot Hills, but went into bad weather faster than we expected. Antarctic weather is very difficult to predict and changes rapidly.”

Jennifer, 63, who has three children and four grandchildren, received treatment for a dislocated elbow and is now comfortable and coming to terms with what has happened. She also sustained broken ribs and remains in hospital to recover from the trauma. She intends to stay with Colin until he is fit enough to travel back to the UK.

Her son Justin is on his way to Punta Arenas from his home in Korea and will be with Jennifer before Christmas. Jennifer spoke to Justin’s daughters, nine-year-old Nicola and seven-year-old Joanna, on the telephone this morning (Monday). “They said thank you for their Christmas presents and that they hoped their granny’s arm would get better soon,” said Jennifer.

Despite his condition, Colin was able to pull Jennifer out of the wreckage when the helicopter came down, put the tent up, put her into a sleeping bag and light the stove, before collapsing himself. “When they found us, the emergency rescue team cut the tent open to get us out,” explained Jennifer. “They immediately put Colin on a board, as it was essential that he was kept flat. They did a very professional job.”

The reaction to the emergency was a textbook case of search and rescue on the part of Mike Sharp and his Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions team at Patriot Hills that is supporting the Polar First Challenge. The rescue took around 17 hours in total, which was about as quick as it was physically possible to have been done. Jennifer also paid tribute to Dr Martin Rhodes, who gave the pilots medical assistance at the scene of the crash, and all the other medical staff who have taken care of Jennifer and Colin since the accident.

“If we hadn’t done everything by the book, paid for search and rescue support and made detailed contingency plans we wouldn’t have survived,” said Jennifer.

The rescue team pilots were very familiar with Antarctic conditions and had experienced situations like this before. A Twin Otter lifted Jennifer and Colin from the snow, an Ilyushin 76 TD aircraft, which is about the same size as a DC10, negotiated the “blue ice” landing strip at Patriot Hills in very difficult conditions and flew Jennifer and Colin back to Chile.

The helicopter’s on-board Blue Sky Network flight-tracking system provided Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions with the exact co-ordinates of the helicopter within minutes of the crash.

The tracking system logged around 10,000 position reports throughout the Polar First Challenge. It sends a position report every 60 seconds when the helicopter is in flight and has an emergency button that starts sending GPS positions every 15 seconds. It alerts a server and automatically pages or texts a preset list of people that the emergency button has been pressed. The unit continued to operate for another three hours on its battery while Jennifer and Colin were on the ground at the crash site. Jennifer also used an Iridium satellite phone to communicate with the emergency team.

Jon Gilbert, president and chief executive of Blue Sky Network, said: “I’m so pleased that Jennifer and Colin are OK. The tracking system worked as it was designed to do and notified people who could render emergency support. Jennifer and Colin did an amazing thing in reaching the South Pole. They still deserve a lot of credit for getting as far as they did.”

FMI: www.polarfirst.com

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