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HomeSpits­ber­gen infor­ma­ti­onHisto­ry → The race to the pole 2 …

The race to the pole 2: Danskøya

History of Spitsbergen - Andrée, Wellman

As neither ships nor sled­ges had tur­ned out to be very useful to reach the pole from Sval­bard, it beca­me a bit quiet for a while and expe­di­ti­ons focu­sed on inves­ti­ga­ti­ons on and near the islands them­sel­ves ins­tead of pushing from the­re fur­ther north.

Being an engi­neer, the Swe­de Salo­mon August Andrée stron­gly belie­ved into tech­ni­cal pro­gress. A jour­ney with one of the new bal­loons see­med to be a good opti­on. Sup­port­ed by a wide public inclu­ding wealt­hy indus­tri­als, the par­lia­ment and the king, he sai­led to Spits­ber­gen in 1896 and estab­lished a base in Vir­go­ham­na on Dan­s­køya, but a start of his bal­lon Örnen (The Eagle) was impos­si­ble due to dif­fi­cult wea­ther con­di­ti­ons.  The result of his second expe­di­ti­on in 1897 was the start of Örnen from the same place, Vir­go­ham­na, and the trace­l­ess dis­ap­pearence of Andrée and his two com­pa­n­ions. After 65 hours, they final­ly had to land on the ice becau­se their bal­loon was lar­ge­ly iced over and thus very hea­vy. They strug­g­led across the ice and final­ly rea­ched Kvi­tøya, the nor­the­as­tern­most and remo­test island of the who­le archi­pe­la­go. The­re, they estab­lished their last camp, whe­re they died after a few weeks. Their remains were coin­ci­den­tal­ly found in 1930, all three got a State’s fun­e­ral in Stock­holm under gre­at public atten­ti­on. It was a sen­sa­ti­on that, after 33 years in the ice, the films could still be deve­lo­ped, so we have pho­tos of the strugg­le during their despe­ra­te jour­ney over the ice.

Andrée’s bal­loon Örnen on the ice, 1897

Andrée's balloon Örnen on the ice, 1897

Monu­ment at Andrées final camp on Kvi­tøya, 2001

Monument at Andrées final camp on Kvitøya, 2001

Ano­ther man who wan­ted to reach the north pole from Dan­s­køya by air only a few years after Andrée was the Ame­ri­can jour­na­list Wal­ter Well­man. After some ear­ly attempts to sledge over the ice from nor­t­hern Sval­bard and Franz Josef Land, he was con­vin­ced that air­ships would pro­vi­de a bet­ter means of rea­ching the pole. The first attempt to start the air­ship Ame­ri­ca from Vir­go­ham­na in 1906 was doo­med to fail from the start, becau­se the engi­ne was far too weak, and the second attempt in 1907 ended after a few flight kilo­me­t­res on a small gla­cier on Spits­ber­gen. In 1909, Well­man retur­ned for a third and final attempt. After seve­ral hours flight time, Well­man was forced to land on the sea ice north of Spits­ber­gen becau­se of tech­ni­cal dif­fi­cul­ties. A Nor­we­gi­an ship pul­led the Ame­ri­ca back to Vir­go­ham­na. Well­man did never return to the Arc­tic, as Peary and Cook then clai­med to have rea­ched the pole. The­re are dif­fe­rent opi­ni­ons as to what Well­man was: a pio­neer of polar avia­ti­on or one of the grea­test fools who has taken part in the race to the pole.

Wal­ter Well­man 1898

Walter Wellman 1898

The air­ship Ame­ri­ca 1909

Airship America 1909

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last modification: 2019-02-22 · copyright: Rolf Stange
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