‘I was desperate for my team to make it’: Adventurers caught in Greenland storm tell inquest of ordeal that killed friend

Philip Goodeve-Docker died from hypothermia after team became trapped in a tent where temperatures plunged to -20C

Paul Bignell@Paul_Bignell
Monday 02 September 2013 12:09

Two British charity adventurers have recounted for the first time how they were caught in a horrific sub-zero degree Arctic storm which led to one of their friends freezing to death.

In emotional testimony, the pair told how their friend Philip Goodeve-Docker, 31, died from hypothermia in Greenland in April after the team became trapped in a tent where temperatures plunged to minus 60-70C including the wind chill factor.

Roan Hackney, 31, and friend Andrew Norman, 33, described how their efforts to hug Mr Goodeve-Docker to keep him warm and to sing morale-boosting songs as they were “squeezed by two walls of snow” failed to save their friend, who is believed to have died only a few hours before they were rescued.

Left to right, Philip Goodeve-Docker with Roan Hackney and Andy Norman

The men told an inquest at Basingstoke Coroner’s Court how, on 26 April, they became caught in a severe storm known as a “Piteraq” – an “all-consuming” and often deadly wind – two days into a 370-mile (644km) 30-day, unsupported charity trek across an ice cap.

Mr Goodeve-Docker, an events organiser from Chilbolton in Hampshire, died hours before the group were finally rescued by helicopter at noon on 28 April. The other men survived the ordeal, but had severe frostbite which resulted in Mr Norman losing some of his toes and fingers.

Mr Hackney told the hearing that he knew the storm was coming and so set up camp in readiness. He said they were well prepared with all the right kit to deal with the conditions, but explained that very soon his worst fears were realised as the storm “rapidly escalated out of nowhere”.

He said drifting snow and ice began crushing them inside the tent. Within hours all three of their tents poles had snapped, forcing them to huddle in the outside porch and fight for their lives in the cold.

He said he tried to go outside to move the snow, but was unable to as visibility was less than inch in front of his face. “I was concerned there would be suffocation under a blanket of snow,” said Mr Hackney.

After calling for help on a satellite phone, the men were told it was impossible to get a helicopter to them and that they would have to sit the storm out.

In Chilbolton, Mr Goodeve-Docker’s family, who attended yesterday’s hearing, were desperately trying to have the rescue brought forward after speaking to him on the phone.

By this point the men were becoming exhausted. “I kept repeating to the team their names and to tell me them back but in reality, our thoughts were only on survival… we were just trying to stay alive,” Mr Hackney said.

He added that the space the men had was getting smaller and smaller as the storm continued to rage.

Philip Goodeve-Docker

“From 19.00 [on 27 April] it was an utter fight for survival,” he recalled. “It was excruciating but we had a sense of purpose and we were determined to stay alive. I had no intention of dying. I was desperate for my team to make it.”

By the morning of 28 April, Mr Hackney told the hearing he was unconscious with hypothermia and said that Mr Goodeve-Docker must had died a few hours before the rescue.

“I heard the helicopter and the sound of people grabbing my hand and I was pulled out of the snow... it was only later in hospital that I heard Andy had survived and Phil had died.”

Mr Norman told the hearing that his overwhelming memory of the ordeal was the constant, relentless wind.

He made a desperate attempt to live by managing to get under the team’s sledge for shelter before he was rescued. “Phil I knew to be dead. I had realised that Phil had frozen to death,” he said.

Recording a verdict of misadventure, North Hampshire coroner Andrew Bradley said: “It’s almost perverse that a fundraising drive taking place in a sense of adventure became the most appalling misadventure.”

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