French explorer abandons Arctic mission after airship crash
French explorer was forced to call off a scientific expedition to the North Pole after his airship crashed into a nearby house.
FAYENCE, France, January 23, 2008 - A French explorer was forced Tuesday
to call off a scientific expedition to the North Pole after his airship broke
from its moorings on the Riviera and crashed into a nearby house.
Jean-Louis Etienne told reporters at the scene of the accident that his
planned trip to measure the thickness of the Arctic ice cap "won't be taking
place with this vehicle, and there is no other".
Etienne's Total Pole Airship, built in Russia over the past three years
with sponsorship from the French oil giant Total, was ripped from its docking
station by a powerful gust of wind early Tuesday morning.
"I feel like crying... it's a huge disappointment," he said.
Separately, the 10-member crew of a French sailboat that has spent more
than 500 days trapped in the Arctic broke free of polar ice this week and
started heading home.
Part of a European scientific mission called Damocles, the Tara was sent to
study climate variations in the Arctic waters, ice and atmosphere as part of
the International Polar Year in 2007-2008.
It became trapped in the ice sheet northeast of Siberia in September 2006,
and has since drifted several thousand kilometres, carried by shifting blocks
of ice to a point between Greenland and Norway's Svalbard archipelago.
On Sunday the boat entered a large expanse of free-moving water, and was
able to start an engine and begin pushing its way eastwards between the ice
blocks, the operation's logistics chief Romain Trouble told AFP.
Loaded with 60 tonnes of scientific equipment, and difficult to manoeuvre,
the Tara is expected to arrive in Spitsbergen, the largest island in the
Svalbard archipelago, by Thursday night.
From there it is expected home in France within a month.