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Bailey, Wild and Wilson

 Expedition at Pyramid Rocks 1965

 

 

Sir Vivien Fuchs describes the circumstances leading up to loss of Jeremy Bailey, David "Dai" Wild and John Wilson in his book Of Ice and Men

“In 1964/5 season Tony Baker, Lewis Juckes, Simon Russell and David Wild spent 206 days in the field, most of the time completing works in the Heimefrontfjella. They also visited what were then known as the Milorgknausane nunataks forty miles to the west to begin the survey and geology of this group. At various points they found much crevassing, and it was these bad areas which were later to be the scene of a tragic accident.

“In 1965/6 a new project was introduced, to sound the ice depth using radio-echo equipment recently developed by Dr Stan Evans at the Scott Polar Research Institute. It had been tested in the Arctic but this was its first use in the south, and Jeremy Bailey was the physicist in charge. He had already successfully installed and operated the equipment on a tractor, and made short journeys around base. It was then decided to attempt soundings during a major journey to the mountains.

“In September ten men set out with three Muskegs and three dog teams. Despite constant mechanical troubles largely due to very heavy loads, they arrived at Pyramid Rock', the main depot in the Tottanfjella. One tractor with a broken propeller shaft had had to be towed over the last mile and it was obvious that there must be a pause for fairly lengthy repairs on two of the vehicles. Doug Beebe and Brian Porter, the mechanics, made camp and set about the overhauls.

“On 12 October the remaining eight men split into two groups. Roddy Rhys Jones, Geoff Lovegrove, Paddy Haynes and Juckes began topograpical survey and geology in the mountains. Wild was in charge of the second unit - John Ross, Dr. John Wilson and Bailey. They travelled westwards with one Muskeg and a dog team, intending to lay a depot near the Milorgknausane nunataks for use by future parties visiting the Vestfjella, a mountain group 100 miles further on.

“Wild believed that by following the route he had travelled the previous season, they would be able to reach a point thirty miles south of the nunataks without crossing any dangerous areas. On their first day they covered only twelve miles, held up by difficult terrain associated with an ice fall ten miles from 'Pyramid Rock'. Then the going was excellent, although low drifting snow obscured the surface, and it was agreed to travel late. At eight o'clock in the evening, having made thirty-eight miles, the accident happened.

“Wild, Bailey and Wilson were in the Muskeg. The dog team, with Ross sitting on the sledge, was attached to the last of two tractor sledges, thus thirty yards behind his companions. While he happened to be glancing backwards his sledge suddenly stopped moving. He turned to see the leading sledge tilted up over a yawning hole, and there was no sign of the tractor which hauled it.

“Anchoring himself with rope, he rushed forward and peered down to see the Muskeg jammed in a crevasse more than 100 feet below. There was no immediate response to his continual shouts, but twenty minutes later he heard Bailey's agonised voice crying out that both Wild and Wilson had been killed, while he himself was badly injured and could not survive. Poor Ross lowered a rope but Bailey ceased to answer his calls.

“Darkness was falling, and even if Ross had attempted to go down into the crevasse, there was little hope that he could have got out again unaided. That nightmare of a night he camped alone at the scene quite distraught, trying frequently to make contact again but there was never any response. By morning he had to accept that his three companions had died.

Frantic attempts to make radio contact with base or the other field parties all failed, and at last Ross set off on the forty-five-mile journey back to `Pyramid Rock' to rejoin Beebe and Porter. After the first shock of hearing the news, they managed to make radio contact with base, who immediately ordered Rhys Jones to take his party back to 'Pyramid Rock'.

By the 23rd they had all joined forces and set out together for the scene of the accident. On arrival Beebe was lowered down to the fallen Muskeg, where he discovered that the three occupants had been crushed by the cab as it fell between ever-narrowing walls in the crevasse. It was not even possible to attempt to recover their bodies. The overwhelmed and silent little party stood in mute prayer while Lovegrove conducted a short service. An improvised wooden crosss was erected to mark the spot.

It will not be without honour to have died at the very end of lands and nature. Tacitus

Reluctant though one is to criticise when death has supervened, in the interests of those who will follow it is perhaps permissible to examine the causes of this accident. It was unwise to have continued travelling in drift conditions where crevasses might exist. The party believed they were on a route pioneered and proved the year before, but in fact they were off course and headed into a crevassed zone which the drift had prevented them from seeing. Furthermore, a technique had been developed whereby dog teams were helped to keep up with tractors by hitching them onto the last sledge towed by the vehicle. This was not recognised as a dangerous practice by eager young men understandably anxious to accomplish the maximum amount of field work in each short season.

If the dogs had been leading, the crevasse might well have been found without untoward results. Again, since dogs are always reluctant to move in drift conditions, the discipline of always running them in front would surely have brought the column to a timely halt. It is easy to say all this with hindsight, but perhaps worthwhile so that others may learn, and even be saved from similar tragedy.

The severe shock we all felt was particularly poignant for the twenty-nine Fids at Halley Bay, and it is a great credit to them that the summer work continued. Lovegrove and Haynes remained in the field to finish the survey while the others returned to base to reorganise. Then Samuel, Dave Brook, Beebe and Chris Gostick set out once more in a Muskeg to try and retrieve the broken tractor and other equipment which had been abandoned at `Pyramid Rock'. This was not successful since there were now only a few hours of daylight, and they suffered high winds and drift. Of the forty-two days spent in the field, twenty-five were lie-ups' when it was impossible to leave the tent. Despondently they returned to base at the end of May.

1966/7 The geology and surveys in the Heimefrontfjella being finished, our scientific plans turned to the Theron Mountains and the Shackleton Range. At the beginning of the following season Haynes, Dick Cuthbertson, Brian Swift and Stuart Noble made a depot-laying journey to cache supplies for later parties trying to reach the Therons. They then travelled to 'Pyramid Rock' and recovered the Muskeg and all the material abandoned the previous year. An engraved memorial plaque had been made and sent south in the relief ship. Now this party climbed to the highest survey point and fixed it to the rock as a tribute to the three men who had lost their lives. It was the final act of the last party to visit the area from Halley Bay. In their memory the Norwegian authorities re-named the nunataks Mannefallknausane.

This extract from Of Ice and Men has been reproduced by kind permission of Peter Fuchs. Expedition photograph Roderick Rhys Jones.

 


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