THE TIMES – May 28, 2003
Ginny Dougary

Explorer Pen Hadow, rescued from the North Pole after his record-breaking walk, tells Ginny Dougary of his triumph.

A MAN looking like a cross between Howard Hughes and Barry Gibb – yellow, grey and white flecked beard, salt-sweat hair – smelling less awful than one might expect and appearing astonishingly lucid stepped off the plane at 1.30pm Arctic time.

Bearing only a dim resemblance to the handsome Old Harrovian last seen more than two months ago. Pen Hadow declared: ”Dearie me, the world´s gone mad.”

The British polar explorer was speaking to The Times just after being rescued from the top of the world where Mother Nature had held him captive for eight days at the end of his record-breaking expedition. ”It´s been quite a 75 days,” he said. ”Good nerve-racking stuff, particularly the last couple of hours. It´s the world that´s gone mad and had a war, while I have just been sitting quietly in my tent.”

Hadow was finally picked up at 7.35 am yesterday (2.35pm BST) and flown away from the North Pole. He had arrived last Monday week alone and on foot after a 64-day trek; he left by air in the company of two men who had tried time and again to reach him and return him to civilisation.

Almost his first action on arriving at the Eureka weather station in the Canadian High Arctic was to leap into the shower. Then, a towel wrapped around his skinny midriff (he has dropped from 14st 7Ib to 11st 12Ib), he described to The Times the nervous hours spent waiting for his rescuers, the race against time to prepare a landing strip, and the elation of his first human contact in two months.

”I was expecting the plane any time after 1.30 am, so I was lying on top of my sleeping bag, fully dressed and booted in a state of hesitant anticipation because I had had three or four false alarms. I did feel that this was the one which was going to work because I was quite in tune with what the weather was like.

”When the plane still wasn´t there at 3am, I was beginning to think it hadn´t taken off. If it had been a problem of aircraft maintenance, I thought that would be another two or three days at least before they came to get me. Then I had an adrenalin charge.

”All I had left was a teabag and some milk powder and that had been my last meal because I had been so sure on Monday that this plan was going to work. So now I was going to be on a snow-melt water on the rocks diet for the possibly the next six days, which was fine since I had enough fuel for 15 days.

”I was moving into a new realm – I had already had on a previous expedition nine days of minimum rations of 150 to 200 calories but this would definitely have been a new challenge.”

The appalling conditions of the past week meant Hadow had not picked out a landing strip for the Twin Otter pilot Steve King and his mechanic Paul Pitzner. The air crew´s first task was to make sure that Hadow had supplies to see him through if they were not able to land.

”I knew that they were going to drop a radio, food and fuel,” Hadow said. ”The plane made a low pass at 75ft andjet tisoned three boxes about 400 metres past my tent. Then the plane circled and I saluted and I already had my harness on and was making my way towards the boxes to confirm that I had seen the drop.

”They landed to my northeast, 30 miles away, where they were sitting in sunshine. The pilot said they could wait for three hours before they had to head back.

”The pilot then asked ´Can you try to select a strip for us?´ It was a partial white-out. I was tripping over bits of snow. It was murky, no contrast, no perspective, no shadow, no sun. I made a runway using dark ration bags filled with snow. It was a bold decision on both our parts. I had 20 minutes in each direction to make the runway. In the partial white-out, the plane came over in a low pass twice. They trusted me and went for it.”

Then, describing the moment the aircraft landed, he said: ”I had been out here for 75 days and my first thought on seeing my first human being was that they were small – they looked like dwarves in stuffed jackets because the light had a shortening effect – they looked very odd indeed like Russian dolls. They didn´t seem like humans. I certainly did not think ´Gosh there´s a fellow human being. ”Face to face, inevitably it was one of those special moments. When the pilot offered his hand and congratulated me, saying ´Well, you´re certainly tougher than I am. I said: ´I don´t think we´d better shake because my hand is less than hygienic.´ And I put a mitt on.

”At this point I was still seriously anxious – because the curtain does not come down until the strip has proven suitable for the landing and the take-off. When we took off and were airborne was the first time that I actually started the process of relaxing.” THERE has been an explosion of interest in Pen Hadow since news of his record-breaking feat spread around the world.

From The New York Times to The New Zealand Herald, the world´s media have picked up The Times´ story and wondered how and when Hadow could be plucked from his icy camp on top of the world and brought back to civilisation.

”Britain´s latest Arctic challenger – dubbed The Human Icebreaker´ – has lost direct contact with his rescue team,” reported the Orlando Sentinel this week. ”A successful rescue from the North Pole can cost up to $100,000,” Canada´s National Post said.

Reporters have been camped outside the Hadow family home on Dartmoor and in Resolute Bay, the remote Arctic station where the sup port aircraft are based, Hadow´s team has been fielding ten media inquiries an hour.

Rebecca Seeley Harris, who volunteered to run Hadow´s official expedition website, said: ”It has just gone berserk. It has been absolutely extraordinary. I wasn´t expecting the numbers of inquiries.”