Featured images by Tristan Kennedy
The man’s mouth is set resolutely in a straight line, and his forehead, framed by the fur of his arctic parka, is deeply furrowed by weather and age. Is that steely determination on his face, or weary resignation? It’s hard to say. But his eyes appear calm as he stares out towards the horizon, and the slate-grey sea that killed him.
“His eyes appear calm as he stares out towards the horizon, and the slate-grey sea that killed him.”
Finding a statue of Roald Amundsen, the greatest of all polar explorers, makes perfect sense in this setting. We’re in Ny-Ålesund on the Svalbard archipelago, the northernmost civilian settlement on the planet. It was from here, in 1926, that the Norwegian navigator launched his last great achievement – a successful bid to reach the North Pole by air. In fact, the tower to which his enormous airship, the Norge, was tethered is still visible, just a few hundred metres from where his statue now stands. Svalbard was also Amundsen’s destination two years later, when the flying boat he was travelling in disappeared over the ocean.
A display in the tiny Ny-Ålesund museum, open by appointment to the trickle of visitors who make it here, tells how Amundsen fell out with the pilot of the Norge, Umberto Nobile, after their success. But on hearing that the Italian had crashed on a return mission to the pole, he still rushed to join the rescue effort. On 18th June 1928, he set off from Tromso bound for Ny-Ålesund, but the plane didn’t make it. Nobile and eight of his men would eventually be saved, but Amundsen’s body was never found.