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Antarctic Explorer Dies 30 Miles Short of Goal

Henry Worsley nearly crossed Antarctica, unaided

Polar explorer Henry Worsley (right) with Prince William of Britain in October, 2015. (Splash News/Splash News/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

Henry Worsley, a British explorer, 55, nearly became the first person to cross Antarctica, unaided, before he died on Sunday. Worsley, who was attempting to complete Ernest Shackleton’s own aborted journey across the Antarctic, called for rescue on Saturday, January 23 when he was just 30 miles from his goal. He died in a Chilean hospital of organ failure.

"He was a man who showed great courage and determination and we are incredibly proud to be associated with him," Prince William said in a statement. The Duke of Cambridge had helped to sponsor Worsley’s expedition.

Worsley’s death was announced on his website, Shackleton Solo, where he documented his attempt to complete the 1915 trek the famously stranded Shackleton and his crew in the Antarctic over a century ago. He kept fans updated on his progress through regular online diary entries and audio messages, the BBC reports.

The explorer covered 913 miles in his 71-day-long trek before he called for help from his support team. He had spent the previous two days in his tent, unable to move from exhaustion and extreme dehydration. He was airlifted to a hospital in Puntas Arena, a city in Chile’s southernmost Patagonia region. Once there, doctors discovered that his abdomen was infected with bacterial peritonitis, an inflammation of the thin layer of tissue that lines the abdomen, Matthew Weaver reports for the Guardian. Despite undergoing emergency surgery, Worsley succumbed to the infection and died from complete organ failure shortly after his rescue.

"When my hero, Ernest Shackleton, was 97 miles from the South Pole on the morning of January the 9th 1909, he said he'd shot his bolt,” Worsley said in an audio message posted to his website shortly before his rescue. "Well today I have to inform you with some sadness that I too have shot my bolt."

Worsley’s attempt to complete Shackleton’s journey wasn’t just hero worship: he was also a distant relative of Frank Worsley, the captain of Shackleton’s iconic ship, the Endurance, Christine Hauser reports for the New York Times. Worsley was also using his expedition to raise money for the Endeavour Fund, a British charity that supports wounded soldiers. A recently retired soldier himself, Worsley described how his drive to support his brothers and sisters in arms inspired him along his trek.

This wasn’t Worsley’s first time crossing Antarctica: he led two previous expeditions in 2008 and 2011, becoming the first person to follow in the footsteps of both Shackleton’s 1908 “Nimrod” journey and Captain Robert Scott and Roald Amundsen’s 1912 trek to the South Pole, the BBC reports.

“Henry will be a huge loss to the adventuring world,” Shackleton’s granddaughter, Alexandra Shackleton, tells the BBC. “The fact that he very nearly made it, only 30 miles short of his goal, makes it in some ways even worse.”

Prince William has promised that Worsley’s wife and two children will receive whatever support they need "at this terribly difficult time," the BBC reports.

About Danny Lewis

Danny Lewis is a multimedia journalist working in print, radio, and illustration. He focuses on stories with a health/science bent and has reported some of his favorite pieces from the prow of a canoe. Danny is based in Brooklyn, NY.

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