The airship «Norge» in Ny-Ålesund

The race to the North Pole attracted men from all over the world. They came with their fantastic craft: balloon, submarine and airship. Some died during the attempt, but their tragic and bizarre stories live on.

Umberto Nobile constructed the airship ‘Norge’ for Roald Amundsen and, in the spring of 1926, flew to Ny Ålesund. The airship crossed the North Pole on the 12th May and the journey passed without apparent drama. There was, however, a great deal of tension between Amundsen and Nobile. Amundsen’s reluctance to share the honour with Nobile led to the latter planning a further journey by airship to the North Pole. On the 23th May 1928 the airship ‘Italia’ took off from Ny Ålesund. The North Pole was reached, but the return journey proved tragic. The airship crashed into the ice. When the telegraph connection was broken, a large-scale rescue operation began. Twenty ships and fourteen aeroplanes from six different nations took part. The Swedish pilot Lundborg rescued Nobile from the ice. The soviet icebreaker ‘Krassin’ saved a further seven expedition members. The other eight members were never found.

The rescue also claimed its victims. Roald Amundsen died when his aeroplane ‘Latham’ crashed on the way from Tromsø to Svalbard to take part in the search.

The exploration phase of polar research was over.

By Gerd Johanne Valen