'Kon-Tiki' adventurer Heyerdahl dies

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The Independent Online

The Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who caught the imagination of the world when he crossed the Pacific in a flimsy reed boat in the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, has died at the age of 87.

The Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl, who caught the imagination of the world when he crossed the Pacific in a flimsy reed boat in the 1947 Kon-Tiki expedition, has died at the age of 87.

Heyerdahl died yesterday from a cancer that had spread to his brain. He was surrounded by his family, including his third wife, Jacqueline, at one of his homes in Colla Micheri in northern Italy.

He had stopped taking food, water and medicine weeks earlier and returned home from hospital at his request. His eldest son, Thor Heyerdahl Jnr, said: "He wanted to go there, to use his words, because it was time to hang up his oars and ride into the sunset."

In a life of daring exploits, adventure and scientific research, he was best known for defying expert opinion and sailing 4,900 miles during a 101-day voyage to Polynesia from Peru with a six-strong Scandinavian crew.

The expedition was an extreme attempt to prove a sceptical academic wrong and demonstrate that mankind could have populated the Polynesian Islands from the east rather than from Malaysia, as was widely thought.

Critics claimed his archaeological evidence was as flimsy as his boats, but his book about the voyage was a huge success and was translated into nearly 70 languages. A documentary about the voyage won an Oscar in 1951.

Throughout his life, he continued to challenge accepted scientific beliefs, with expeditions aboard the reed boats Ra, Ra II and Tigris, as well as archaeological studies around the world.

He had nearly drowned twice as a child in Larvik, and overcame his fear only at 22, when he fell into a raging river in Tahiti and swam to safety. "If you had asked me as a 17-year-old whether I would go to sea on a raft, I would have absolutely denied the possibility. At that time, I suffered from fear of the water," he once said.

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