British explorer Henry Worsley was just 30 miles short of a historic crossing of Antarctica this weekend when his epic slog went terribly wrong. Troubles began for the 55-year-old former army officer last Wednesday when his pace slowed to about a mile per hour during whiteout conditions. Worsley found himself completely tent-bound the following day and, depleted of all energy, phoned for an airlift off the white continent Friday afternoon, seeking relief at a hospital in southern Chile.
In his last audio message, sent from Antarctica Friday, Worsley lamented that his target was just beyond reach. "I have run out of time, physical endurance and the simple sheer ability to slide one ski in front of the other to travel the distance required to reach my goal," he said. "I've spent 70 days on my own in a place I love… So, I'll lick my wounds, they will heal over time, and I'll come to terms with the disappointment."
Worsley never got that opportunity.
The seasoned adventurer had intended to reach the finish line on Ross Ice Shelf Tuesday, but died Sunday in a hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile, after a two-day fight for his life. The rescue team with Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE) said Worsley was the victim of exhaustion, dehydration, and bacterial peritonitis (an inflammation of the thin tissue that lines the inner wall of the abdomen).
Worsley's wife, Joanna, issued a statement Monday confirming the untimely passing of the beloved polar explorer. "It is with heartbroken sadness I let you know that my husband, Henry Worsley, has died following complete organ failure; despite all efforts of ALE and the medical staff at the Clinica Magallanes in Punta Arenas, Chile," she said.
Worsley completed an impressive 913 miles on his 71-day attempt to bisect Antarctica from Berkner Island to the Ross Ice Shelf (via the South Pole). The conditions he faced along the way were brutal. Not only do temperatures dip to as much as -45 F, but the stretch of ice he traversed is home to some of the most extreme conditions known to man.
Norwegian Borge Ousland is the first person to have completed a solo and unsupported crossing of Antarctica in 1997. But Worsley's record attempt differed considerably in that he didn't use the aid of a parafoil kite, which helped Ousland finish his trip in just 34 days. Instead, Worsley carried his own food and supplies (enough for 80 days) in a sled, which he pulled without the aid of dogs or wind-power.
Ousland said in a statement Monday that Worsley was "among the best, strongest and most determined of the modern explorers," adding that "neither him or his impressive feat will be forgotten."
Worsley's final journey was a deeply personal one. He'd hoped to complete the unfinished expedition of his hero, Ernest Shackleton. It was a century ago when Shackleton set off on his own trip across Antarctica with Henry's distant relative, Frank Worsley, as his captain.
"I believe Sir Ernest would have been humbled by, and admiring of, the sheer scale of Henry Worsley's ambition, self-discipline, courage, leadership and supreme and relentless effort in the face of such a challenge,” says fellow polar explorer Pen Hadow, the first person to trek solo (without resupply) from Canada to the North Pole in 2003.
Worsley had a lifelong passion for the lives of Antarctic explorers from the Edwardian age. He led a trip in commemoration of Shackleton's "Nimrod" expedition through the Transantarctic Mountains in 2008, and another in 2011 re-tracing Amundsen's and Scott's expeditions to the South Pole.
The 2015-2016 Shackleton Solo Expedition was to be his third major polar expedition in a decade. In undertaking it, Worsley hoped to raise more than £100,000 ($143,000) for the Endeavour Fund, a charity that supports wounded soldiers. Not only did he surpass that goal, but donations continued to pour in Monday in memoriam.
Prince William — a patron of the expedition who helps manage the Endeavour Fund — issued a statement Monday in tribute to Worsley, calling the veteran an inspiring friend who exemplified courage and determination. "Even after retiring from the Army, Henry continued to show selfless commitment to his fellow servicemen and women by undertaking this extraordinary Shackleton solo expedition on their behalf," he said.
Worsley leaves behind his wife, Joanna, and two children, Max, 21, and Alicia, 19.