The plane takes off again about twenty minutes later and flies on 89 degrees until 1.45 p.m., two hours on, when it lands at an isolated landing strip where we learn for the first time it is necessary to make a quick change of planes and of pilots.
It seems Harry Hansen has done his stint and it is essential we have a fresh pilot to take us on the final leg. The waiting pilot has his own plane already fuelled for us. I wasn’t really sorry to leave Harry behind as he had always been too contrary for my liking and I felt we had to watch what we said and did too carefully in case we upset him and he decided against flying us on.
World Map Arctic Circle Photo Gallery
The new pilot is called Henry Perke and he is perky by nature. He is enthusiastic and exuberant and seems as keen as we are, if that is possible, to get us to the Pole. This time we take on board three extra fuel drums. I just have time to walk once around the plane and take a look at the vast vistas of ice and snow stretching away into the distance in every direction that seem to go on forever. It is intensely cold and there is a fierce wind. I clamber on to the tops of some giant ice blocks to give me a greater view but it is still the same. Now I am the king of the ice castle. Henry had flown in Andy Goldsworthy and his team to the Pole only yesterday and had left them overnight to tent in the area. He tells us they have been hoping for and expecting us to arrive to meet up with them. Of course he couldn’t leave the aircraft there as it was much too cold and the engine would likely freeze and prevent any subsequent take-off. Henry is flying a larger aircraft, an Otter which seats 16 18 persons; this is needed because of the greater number of people he has to bring back with us as well as their tents and equipment. The Otter has a low ceiling and we already feel cramped without the inclusion of the others and everything we also have to bring out. No matter, we are about to head for the North Pole!
Henry revs the engine twice; obediently and urgently it fires into life. It’s a short runway and the plane quickly climbs upwards and we are on our way. We are initially flying low and fast and Henry handles the flying machine with utter confidence. He obviously knows the route like the back of his hand but nevertheless I still see him regularly checking his GPS instruments. The Arctic is not a place where you can afford to take chances. There are invisible signs everywhere ‘Gamblers not welcome’. However, the flight still feels as exciting as winning a jackpot!
After a while there is tremendous excitement as we see far below us a tiny expedition team slowly edging their painful way across the ice, attempting to walk to the North Pole unaided. It can only be Robert Swan and his team. We circle once and they wave momentarily but they must need every bit of energy and concentration to continue and we are a distraction so we fly on. I am feeling tired and want to be totally alert for the Pole, so again try to doze and rest for at least an hour but it just isn’t easy to relax.
Then suddenly, without any warning, we are there and the pilot starts circling as we see the Goldsworthy tent below us and he looks for a safe place to touch down. He explains he needs a firm and flat run in, without broken ice that could damage the undercarriage or might cause difficulty when he attempts the take-off. It is absolutely vital not to land on ice which is too soft and might not support the weight of the plane. Henry knows how much it means to the four of us to be here and he wants to land us exactly at 90 oN.
Henry makes his decision, the plane starts its final approach and we descend rapidly. Is he coming in too fast? No it is perfect! A few bumps, no skids, the plane holds fast and we taxi smoothly and come to a complete halt. We are in Pole position.