Antarctic crossing in trouble

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A BRITISH expedition seeking to make the first crossing of Antarctica without air or land assistance has run into severe difficulties, writes James Buchan.

Sir Ranulph Fiennes, 49, and Dr Michael Stroud, 37, on the 87th day of their unsupported crossing of the continent have reached Beardmore glacier, 1,200 miles from their start point, but are suffering from frostbite, hunger and a breakdown in their radio-transmitting equipment. Speaking from Punta Arenas in Chilean Patagonia last night, Morag Howell, the expedition's chief radio operator, said: 'It's an extremely critical situation.'

With late autumn temperatures in Antarctica falling very quickly, the chief question is whether the two de Havilland DHC6 Twin Otter aircraft positioned at Patriot Hills, their forward base on the continent, will find good flying weather and landing conditions to accomplish a rescue mission. 'They're so near their goal, it's frustrating and it's scary,' Mrs Howell said.

Sir Ranulph and Dr Stroud set off on 9 November with food for 100 days and supplies are low. Sir Ranulph has lost at least three stones, one sledge is smashed, and they are down to one ski pole apiece, without baskets. Most seriously, Sir Ranulph has a badly inflamed, frostbitten foot and Dr Stroud has frostbite on his hands.

The Norwegian explorer Erling Kagge, 30, was given a hero's welcome when he returned to Oslo yesterday after skiing 1,310 km (814 miles) alone for 50 days, in temperatures of minus 30C (minus 22F), to reach the South Pole.