First sled dog crossing of Antarctica complete


ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Six explorers completed the first dogsled crossing of Antarctica Saturday, finishing a seven-month, 4,000-mile trek after the rescue of a team member lost in whiteout conditions for 14 hours, their support crew reported.

The six-nation Trans-Antarctica expedition, the first to cross the frozen continent without mechanized transportation, arrived at the Soviet scientific base of Mirnyy at 6:06 a.m. CST. They had set out from Seal Nunataks on July 27.


Soviet team member Victor Bovarsky, 38, led the team into the base and was greeted by 40 Soviets and a variety of journalists waiting with a finish-line banner. His wife, Natasha, had flown from Leningrad to meet him.

Team leader Will Steger, 45, of Ely, Minn., and Geoff Somers, 39, of Great Britain followed with their dog teams. The other explorers were Keizo Funatsu, 32, of Japan, Qin Dahe, 42, of China, and team co-leader Jeanne-Louis Etienne, 42, of France.


The Soviets celebrated the team's arrival with a traditional Russian greeting of bread and salt, followed by champagne toasts.

Funatsu appeared to have recovered somewhat from an ordeal Friday and early Saturday during which he was lost for 14 hours in blinding wind and snow just feet from his tent. He was forced to dig a hole in the snow to keep from freezing and looked a 'little stiff' Saturday, with black marks on his face, said Jennifer Gasparini, a member of the team's support staff in St. Paul.

Steger and Etienne fell into each others arms near the finish line and cried for five minutes, Gasparini said.

'It is wonderful to have finished,' Etienne said. 'It has been a very difficult seven months.'

Etienne, in a television hookup with reporters in Paris, described Antarctica as 'a giant continent ... but also a dangerous land, unforgiving, reserved to men of experience.'

'I would like to tell all the children of the world that Antarctica is not threatened by pollution,' the 43-year-old French doctor added. 'It is still pristine and white.

'It's a continent as big as Europe and the United States put together, and it belongs to no one,' he said. 'All countries should forget partisan interests and make a gift of it to the planet. That's what's important: that this continent belong to everyone.'


The expedition was organized in part to draw worldwide attention to environmental concerns about Antarctica. A three-member film crew and a still photographer have been traveling with the expedition since Feb. 23.

French President Francois Mitterand said in a congratulatory message to the explorers, 'Your expedition has a sporting merit, but it's also a human adventure, and a scientific observation of the importance of the continent for our environment.'

Gasparini said team members were invited to take a sauna after finishing their trek, but declined, saying they were too hot. The temperature at their arrival was about zero degrees Fahrenheit and winds were blowing about 30 mph.

Expedition staff members in Paris reported the men appeared healthy and not thin. Some had dark scabs on their faces from frostbite.

Gasparini said Funatsu had left his tent late Friday to check the team's dogs and was unable to find his way back because of winds of more than 70 mph that stirred up whiteout conditions. There were markers between the dogs and tents every 10 feet. Funatsu became alarmed and dug himself a hole and stayed there, she said.

When Funatsu did not return within two hours, his fellow team members tied themselves together and searched for three hours until it became too dark. They resumed the search at 4:30 a.m. Saturday and found him in the hole he had dug.


'Keizo has a strong will to live and that's why he survived,' Steger said.

Funatsu said later he had always wanted to experience Antarctica at night and believed he could have survived one more night in his hole.

The team was expected to leave Mirnyy aboard a Soviet scientific vessel Monday and sail to Wellington, New Zealand, a 12-day trip.

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