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Sun, Dec 21, 2003

'Polar First' Record Flight Halted by Crash

Colin Bodill and Jennifer Murray Safe, But Injured

Two British record setters with an extensive pedigree of aviation accomplishments have survived a hairy Antarctic crash in their Bell 407.

The heli-duo made it to the South Pole, this week, as part of their Polar First record flight on the 100th anniversary of the Wright Brothers First Powered Flight. They had reportedly just departed on the next leg of their challenge when the Bell 407 went down in what was reported as "bad weather."

The Polar First Challenge 2003 lifted off from New York on October 22nd, 2003. Its aim was to break the Pole to Pole record and raise awareness and funds for the conservation organization WWF. Last Saturday, Jennifer mixed record business with pleasure when she met her businessman husband Simon Murray, who is bidding to become the oldest man to walk 850 miles overland to the South Pole unsupported. He is accompanied on his trip by Arctic explorer Pen Hadow.

After being rescued from the remote Antarctic crash site, Murray and Bodill are now in the hospital in the Chilean city of Punta Arenas following a 17-hour rescue mission to retrieve them.

Both pilots were taken straight to hospital when they landed in Punta Arenas at Saturday night (14:50 local time). Colin Bodill sustained injuries typical of those received in high-impact crashes. He is undergoing a thorough medical assessment but is lucid, conscious and stable. Jennifer Murray has dislocated an elbow, not broken her arm (as was first feared).

Despite his injuries, it has been reported that Colin braved the bitter cold to get Jennifer out of the helicopter following the accident and put her into a sleeping bag. He then erected a tent for shelter and lit a stove for warmth before collapsing because of his injuries.

The duo were picked up in a Twin Otter aircraft around three-and-a-half hours after the accident by the Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions rescue team before being taken back to the team’s Patriot Hills base camp. Jennifer and Colin waited at Patriot Hills for the rescue team’s Ilyushin 76 TD aircraft to make the five-hour trip from Punta Arenas and transport the pilots back to the Chilean city’s hospital.

The plane touched down on the Patriot Hills "blue ice" landing strip at 09:49am local time and returned within an hour to transport the pilots on the last leg of their 17-hour ordeal, accompanied by a doctor, to Punta Arenas.

The helicopter accident happened at 10:00pm local time, Saturday, 120 miles north of Patriot Hills on the northern section of the Ronne Ice Shelf, as the pilots flew towards South America on the latest stage of the Polar First Challenge, ending the flight one-third of the way to completion. The pilots used the helicopter’s on-board flight-tracking equipment and a satellite phone to alert the rescue team at Patriot Hills after the aircraft went down.

Jennifer Murray, who set the world record for the fastest female solo helicopter flight around the world in 2000, together with co-pilot Colin Bodill, flew down the east coast of the US, through Central and Southern America, down to the South Pole. They were in the process of starting their journey up to the North Pole via the west coast of the Americas and Canada, with a view to ending up in New York in mid-April 2004, when the accident happened. Jennifer and Colin planned to make over 160 stops on the journey to highlight the work of the WWF, flying scientists to key conservation sites, undertaking mapping and zoning of uncharted territory, tracking illegal destruction of natural resources and following endangered species.

FMI: www.polarfirst.com

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