Rescuers criticise Arctic explorer for risking lives

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The British explorer Pen Hadow was rescued by plane from the North Pole yesterday - and came under immediate criticism from the emergency team "for risking lives" by the "stupid" decision to launch his Arctic mission when the pack ice was melting with the onset of spring.

Mr Hadow, 41, who became the first person to reach the geographic North Pole unaided on 19 May, had been stranded for eight days in temperatures of minus 21C, with dwindling rations due to run out today. He was lifted from a slab of floating ice in what the aircraft rescue team described as a highly difficult and hazardous operation.

Steve Penikett, of Kenn Borek Air, based in Calgary, which completed the mission, said: "I wish it hadn't taken place at this time of the year. This is the latest we have ever done a pick-up. Landing on the North Pole at this time of the year is not the brightest thing people can do because of the weather and ice conditions.

"People are at risk - the ice breaks and it shouldn't really happen. No one should expect to be picked up from there later than 30 April ... Going to the Pole this time of the year is a bit stupid and you put a lot of people's lives at risk. If you are going to put yourself into a spot like this ... it really does need to be thought through."

Emergency services regularly complain at the waste of resources and dangers faced in rescue missions made necessary by avoidable misadventures. A cruise by the amateur sailor Eric Abbott in August 2000, undertaken in an attempt to "find himself", resulted in several rescue operations and a £30,000 bill.

Another sailor, Pete Goss, had three accidents with his £3m catamaran in the North Atlantic. Sir Richard Branson has had various ballooning mishaps from which he had to be rescued.

Mr Hadow, from Hexworthy on Dartmoor, Devon, trekked 478 miles dragging a 330lb sled to achieve his mission. But he subsequently lost reception on his satellite telephone, leaving him with only a signal beacon to communicate with his team at the Eureka Weather Station, on Ellesmere Island, off the Canadian coast.

With weather conditions preventing attempts to extricate him, Mr Hadow subsisted on half-rations of nuts, chocolate and dried fruit.

The rescue team had headed towards Mr Hadow on Monday evening, but could not land alongside him because of adverse weather, and had to wait 30 miles away for conditions to improve. Yesterday, however, a break in the weather allowed a Twin Otter aircraft to reach him.

"Two aeroplanes were there today and one picked him up and flew back to mid-point to meet the other one just about 15 minutes ago. What made it dangerous was the breaking ice and thick cloud," said Mr Penikett.

"He has had quite a trek and I'm sure he's very tired and hungry. But he's done well. Many people have tried this with varying degree of success. Anyone who gets there has achieved a good thing."

Mr Hadow's wife, Mary - who had been waiting for news with their two children, Wilf, four, and Freya, one, both named after explorers - spoke to her husband for the first time since he reached the Pole. "The first thing I knew was the phone rang and he said, 'Hello, it's me. Are you all right?' ... He is, I think, physically tired but mentally he's sparkling and firing on all cylinders," she said.

Earlier Ms Hadow had described her husband as "invincible", adding: "The weather at the Pole is often like this at this time of the year and Pen made contingency plans ... rescue is such an emotive word. It's just a pick-up. Pen would have known there was a 50/50 chance that this would happen. He is very tough and strong, particularly mentally, but he has no doubt been through some extremes of emotion. He was ecstatic when he got to the Pole but he said he was so tired his legs were buckling."

Ms Hadow said she had kept up her own spirits by repeatedly replaying the message she had received from her husband when he had reached the Pole. "He left a message on my mobile and I keep listening to it when I need cheering up," she said.

Mr Hadow, who owns a polar travel company, had to swim in freezing waters in a special dry suit and negotiate huge pressure ridges to achieve his goal. In 1994 he completed three quarters of the distance to the Pole before a knee injury forced him to quit.

Ban climbers from Everest, Hillary says

By Charles Arthur, Technology Editor

Everest should be closed to climbers to "give the mountain a rest for a few years", Sir Edmund Hillary, one of the first two climbers to conquer the world's highest peak, said yesterday.

On the eve of the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of the mountain on 29 May 1953, by Sir Edmund and Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, his proposal triggered immediate controversy among climbers on both sides of the debate over the mountain's littered slopes.

Speaking after a procession through the Nepalese capital of Kathmandu to celebrate the forthcoming anniversary, Sir Edmund - who has never revealed who was the first to set foot on the summit - said he had suggested to the Nepalese government that it should stop giving permits to climbers so that uncollected rubbish from decades of expeditions could be cleared from its lower slopes.

The idea was backed by Junko Tabei, the Japanese who was the first woman to scale the peak, in 1975. She says she wants either a short ban on climbing, or a limit on numbers. "Everest has become too crowded. It needs a rest now. Only two or three teams should be allowed in a season to climb Everest."

In the 50 years since Everest's 29,035ft (8,850m) peak was conquered, climbers have left heaps of garbage.

But many interests, including the Nepalese government, which earns $70,000 (£40,000) per team of seven climbers going beyond base camp, and the sherpas who make their wages by carrying loads, oppose the idea of closing it. On average, there are 12 teams on the Nepalese side of the mountain during the spring season. Anniversary fever this year has meant twice as many.

Ang Phurba, a Sherpa guide, in the region, said: "There are thousands of people in the region who solely depend on the trekkers and mountaineers for their income. If they don't come, these people and their families will starve."