time this fantastic balloon flight over the North Pole” David Earl
Miller, American Polar Balloon Pilot 1997, l998.
Arctic,he willbepulledbackagainlikea boomerangtothis
adventure. The crystal-clear air, many colors of bright ice thou-
silence, the strange resound acousticand the generous hospitality
of thenativepeoples.Allof this
lures the spirit away from the daily
desk, out to one of the challenged
expeditions in ourtime. The $6000
cost, while not inexpensive, is not
ence onthe realtopof the World!
Who knows, how long the Russian
from eight nations experienced the
“NorthPole Balloonist’s” illness.
The six balloon teams were joined
divers from Russia and USA. The
nations was organized to celebrate
founding of the first polar research
station (at Franz Joseph Land). Ac-
companying the expedition was an
Smetan nik o v,carry in gab ig
wooden cross with the intention to
holda mass at the North Pole.
dynamics and sequence of events.
A lot of factors like weather, con-
magnetic storms in the ionosphere, technical breakdowns, health
dences” can change or put in question the whole expedition, even
it was well preparedand organized. But the highest taskof each
return to home.
Murmansk, Russiaa cityof 400,000,enjoys analmostice
cold war,Murmanskwasa top secret area, the base ofthe past
Soviet Polar Navy and atomic submarines. The new age in Russia
seems to stop in front of the city border, the Lenin monument is
stillpresentinthe centralpark, theapatheticthinkingandthe
Communist party is still present, the shops are filled with goods,
the crime is very low, most of the people are friendly, helpful and
hospitable, but there is a growing unrest among them because of
We spend about a week in this
together with the sky- andscuba-
divers, where the,“certified” vodka
interest, bothof them are sociable
and happy and both of them dive—
the one under the water, the other
joked withthe leader of the Mos-
if he will agree to accept me as his
diving companion during his North
witha jokingvoice, “may be.”
sauna in Murmansk, for the naked
natives it was veryunusual tosee
foreignvisitors.The strong water
infusions on the red-hot rocks, ac-
companied byhealthy whips with
birchrods, made us sweata lot.
Delays extended ourstay. First
the new runwayatthe base camp
lems. Then the aircraft to transport
our partywascommandeeredby theRussia Polar Airforce for
another group. Thisadditional time took its toll onthe patience
of our group. One balloon team desertedandwent home.
The scuba-diving group went to Chatanga to negotiate with
Arctic “Sea World,” where we saw a great show of trained seals
and sea lions. After this visit we rented a private, very rusty ship
their flight over the North Pole.
weorganizedasplendidchampagneship party inthevery
aristocratic furnishedrestaurant on thislovely ship, whereby the
low spirit of our group reached again a high level.
Good news inthe hotel, our scuba diverstake a hard stand in
Chatanga and refuse to leave the plane (which doesn’t have a
WC) for24 hours,until the chiefof the polarheadquarters,
Colonel Ovtshinikov, gives up and released the plane for our
“Perfect weather on the North Pole, low wind and a lot of
sunshine!”-reported thepilotreturningfrom Borneo. We receive
permission to load our equipment during the 12 hour layover
before the plane returns to Borneo. Before we changed our city-
clothes with our polar fur equipment, we visited once more the
Russian saunaand madeawonderful helicopterflight over
Murmansk and the around the Tundra.
Unfortunatelybefore take off (we were sittingalready inthe
jet plane), we received news of a new problem: the stable high
pressure over the Arctic was jointed by very strong magnetic
stormsinthe ionosphere, whichinterruptand disturbtheair-radio
communication. “Withouta landing confirmationfrom BorneoI
cannot start,” declared regrettably the captain. We must wait
“Now we will see, who has the perfect waiting training,” I
said and looked to the disappointed guys. But, astonishingly,
nearly all participants reacted withindifference.Theflights
home from Moscow were already postponed, the Russian visa is
no problem to prolong, the business duties at home were man-
agedbytelephone,so what can beaproblem?OnSunday
morning, April 25, a mobile satellite telephone call from Borneo
reached us with the message “free for take off!”
A4 hour flightbroughtusto the base campwith a perfectice
landing. Splendid weather with 3 knots wind speed, 32ºC and
Because thisreallyhappenedlast year, our Victor received a very
coldreceptionfrom the basecamp crew and was abandoned with
his cross in the big icy desert.
Gunar’s was waiting impatiently with his balloon. He in-
flated and made a short flight, because he planned to return to
Murmansk with the waiting skydivers. The balloon he left to us
and disappeared in the waiting plane with a sweet-sour smile.
The beautiful weather stimulated us to make a first balloon
flight from Borneo. Our Polar bear mascot, Misha (the teddy
bear),flewwithusand had firsttimethe opportunityto see hisice
kingdom from the sky. After a rough drag landing in the snow
Misha refused to fly any more together with such crazy guys as
Finally we went to prepare our North Pole flight. But the
Commanderof Borneo, CaptainVjatsheslavGirlja, whowasone
of the two helicopter pilots for ourretrieve told us, that the
kerosene reserves are not enough to allow the balloon action
withoutarisk.We must waituntilthe plane returnsagainwiththe
necessary kerosene supplies! It was a big torture for us to have
this perfect ballooning weather and not enough kerosene for
retrieving! But, what we can do, again some 20 hours waiting!
Some of us went around in the strange ice scenery, some made
photographsfor thesponsors, sometook arest, sleepingin heated
double skin tents.
I tookthis time to try an organize my promisedscuba diving
adventure. When I asked the divinggroup leader he was hesitant.
Last year the group leader died under mysterious circumstances
and another diver, who tried to rescue him, almost lost his life.
I was not afraid after this story and promised in exchange a
persuade effort and he said, “O.K., put on the thermal divingsuit
and let’sgo!”I changed myclothesin thewarm tent, checkedthe
divingequipment We went toa almostfrozen crack onthe North
Pole. There we made one hole in the only 40 cm thick fresh ice,
bound asafety rope round my body and jumped in the -4ºC
“warm” and very salty sea water.
Under us was a dark deepness of 4000 meters. Under the
surface we saw the 10 m deep walls of an iceberg withplenty of
welcomed. But 5 of the old staff were not present. The com-
mander and four helicopter pilots died under very mysterious
circumstances in September during a fishing trip to a cold lake
near Chatanga. Lastyear there was alsoa Russian priest, who put
a big wooden cross in the ice on the North Pole and held a mass
there. But according to a old Siberian shaman superstition to set
flying over it as an aeronaut.
floated with a cosmic silence. After 20 minutes Misha gave me
the sign to come up. I crawl like a sea lionout from the ice hole,
happy to have seen thisnatural treasure. I was the first Austrian
and thethird nationafter USAand Russiatodive under theNorth
Pole.We returnedto thewarm tent, on thewaymydivingsuitand
beard froze, but my joyous spirit didn’t notice. Warm tea and a
mouthful vodka brought me again in balance.
The weather remained perfect for ballooning. Finally the
plane arrived with enough kerosene fuel, the helicopter rotors
started torunandwe went tothe North Pole. After settingthe 90º
pointwith a GPSeverybody set hisice anchor withquick release
and began toinflate theballoons. The Spanishteam from Madrid
was the firstin the air, followed from the Ultra Magic team from
Barcelona and the Englishteam from London. The big Slovenia
balloon inflated well, but still some wind snatched the envelope
again back to the ice. My cloudhopper, which flew already 3
times over the North Pole, succeeded to inflate, but suddenly I
realized, thatbothpilotlightswentoff and nochance tolightthem
again! This year we pressurized the gas cylinders with Helium
gas, but obviously this was not a good idea. Also the pressure
went down very quickly after the pressurizing of the gas cylin-
ders, perhaps because theHelium molecule ismuchsmaller asair
or nitrogen molecule. SoI decided for safety reasons to give up
and deflated, because to fly over this dangerous scenery, plenty
We had one more spare balloon, left from the Lithuanians.
Togetherwith the Italian teamtraveling without balloon, we
inflated and fulfilled a North Pole flight. We followed Gunar’s
dictum, “Let’s fly together.” Because of few gas reserves this
balloon flightwas unfortunatelyshort, but itwas a splendid one,
International and unforgettable. Suddenly I realized that I set a
new record for the Guinness book, in one day to dive under and
to fly over the North Pole.
Helicopter retrieve waswithoutproblem, evenwithoutradio
communication, because the sight in the Arctic is very far and
clear and a smoke rocket is enough to show the helicopter your
landing position—even in 40 km distance.
mum 6balloons(maximum size 77,000 cu. ft.), 25to 30persons.
Costis US $6,000 per person and US $6,000 per balloon.
Bolivia balloon expedition, June 2000 (the dry season pe-
mysterioustraces of the Incas. Boliviaisa virginsoilforballoon-
ing! Cost US $2,500 per person.
For more information on theseextremeballooning trips
contact:Ivan Andre Trifonov,FelixFrafeGasse 4/147/7, A-1100