Rugby stars shrug off landing drama
Three former England rugby internationals on a charity expedition to the North Pole have said they felt nothing more than a jolt when the landing gear on their plane collapsed on a floating ice runway.
Lewis Moody, Danny Grewcock and Josh Lewsey were en route to an epic 60 mile journey across the last degree in the Arctic when the accident happened.
The former Lions stars dismissed reports of an emergency after poor visibility at the makeshift 800m strip beside the Russian operated Camp Barneo caused a first aborted landing.
It is believed the experienced pilots were forced to break harder than usual when the Antonov Stol (Short Take Off and Landing plane) touched down as a crack had appeared on an ice floe near the runway.
But the stars played down reports of a near miss as they celebrated a safe return from their epic endeavour to raise money for the Lewis Moody Foundation and the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund.
"We didn't know anything was wrong," 36-year-old Moody said.
"There were murmurs about it and instead of it being a smooth landing I think maybe they had to put the plane down a bit quicker than normal. But I wasn't particularly bothered by it."
Danny Grewcock, 42, said there was a jolt on impact but it wasn't until the 36 passengers were getting off that the plane's nose lifted and it sank back on its rear loading bay.
"It was a firm landing. More of a jolt than anything," the former Lions and England forward said.
The group had flown in from the most northerly town in the world, Longyearbyen on the Svalbard archipelago, to the Russian operated camp over a week ago when the accident happened.
Barneo sits on ice three to 12 feet thick and 25 miles from the geographic pole and is a temporary research and expedition station and the starting point for adventurers to trek the last degree to the pole.
Richard Donovan, organiser of the UVU North Pole Marathon for the last 13 years, had to wait for a replacement Antonov AN 74 T 100 to bring runners to the camp.
"I wouldn't trust anyone other than the Russian pilots to land a plane here," he said.
Moody, Grewcock and World Cup winner Lewsey were part of a nine strong team including three Royal Marines and directors of yachting company Y.CO who trekked to the pole guided by Arctic legend Alan Chambers, the first Briton to walk from Canada to the geographic pole.
Grewcock, 6ft 6in and 120 kilos, used small skis for the trek which compounded problems in the treacherous conditions as it was more difficult for him to navigate cracks in the ice.
At one point on the journey the lock had to take a leap of faith to run and jump a break in the ice at least one and a half metres wide.
"When you see a huge break and the water you think none of us want to go for a swim," he said.
The breaks in the ice became so treacherous the close to the pole the team got.
At one point the group travelled 10 miles with only four of those going forward.
The team flew into Camp Barneo on Saturday April 4 and were taken by helicopter to the exact latitude of 89 North before loading up their 60 kilo sleds and trekking to the pole.
Their journey took them across ice floes, ridges up to five feet high and lethal breaks in the ice sheet, all the while they endured temperatures which fell to as cold as -50C.
It is hoped the expedition will raise £250,000 for the Lewis Moody Foundation as well as the Royal Marines Charitable Trust.