Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS

Montage of images and link description. Alone on the Ice Imagemap: linked to kids and home
The Film and More
Imagemap(text links below) of menu items
The American Experience
The Film & More
Reference
Interview Transcripts | Further Reading

Bess Balchen Urbahn on: The South Pole Expedition
Bess Balchen Q: Byrd asked Bernt to be the pilot on the South Pole, why did he ask him?

BESS: Byrd decided that Bernt Balchen would be the pilot. He had seen my husband's skills in the out of doors and he was a survivor and he was an excellent skier and he knew how to handle practically every situation and he was always prepared for the worst. So, that's why they chose him.


Q: In what way did Bernt save the day on the South Pole flight - what happened? They got into very dangerous circumstances, right?

BESS: The plane didn't gain enough height to get over the mountains and then they had to dump stuff, as you know and they dumped the food rather than the gasoline because they couldn't fly back on sandwiches. So, that's what happened.


Q: Did Byrd and Bernt like each other? Why were they together?

BESS: I think that Admiral Byrd needed Bernt Balchen on the South Pole Expedition. He was impressed with his abilities and I don't think it was ever a very warm feeling between them, definitely not in the later years. Bernt Balchen always did his best to keep a good relationship but that didn't work out in the long run because of what Admiral Byrd did to him.


Q: In his accounts of the South Pole flight, did Byrd give Bernt Balchen credit for his role, for what he had done for his flying ability.

BESS: After the South Pole flight Byrd gave Bernt Balchen credit for what he had done, definitely.


Q: How key a role was Bernt's role in the South Pole flight?

BESS: Bernt Balchen figured all the logistics of the flight and what the well everything. And of course, you know, Harold June was on the flight and he relieved Bernt in the cockpit but Bernt Balchen probably did most of the work, no question about it. When they came back to Little America, Bernt Balchen offered Byrd a log from the trip and Byrd said he didn't want it.


Q: Was Bernt treated like a hero after the South Pole flight? How did his reception compare to Richard Byrd's?

BESS: Well, the reception that Bernt Balchen got after the South Pole wasn't exactly what he had hoped for. He got a paper that he had no right to be in the U.S. because he had overstayed his Visa or something. And that's when lots of his friends, known and unknown got together and got him his citizenship.

back to Interview Transcripts | next


Program Description | Enhanced Transcript | Reference

The Film & More | Special Features | Timeline | Maps | People & Events | Teacher's Guide
The American Experience | Kids | Feedback | Search | Shop | Subscribe

©  New content 1999 PBS Online / WGBH

Exclusive Corporate Funding is provided by: