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Raimond Goerler on: The South Pole Expedition
Raimond Goerler Q: What was the American public feeling about the mythology about exploration in the South Pole, prior to Byrd?

RG: Well, the South Pole prior to Byrd had been the setting for a tragic drama namely the Amundsen reaching the South Pole and then the story of Bernt Balchen, Scott reaching the South Pole and dying on the way back and leaving a journal that was widely read, especially by Byrd, himself about losing one's life in the Antarctica. So, it was a place of high drama as well as mystery.

Q: Why did Byrd reveal who would be the pilot on the South Pole flight until the last minute and how did Balchen feel about it?

RG: Well Balchen judging from his ah autobiography was extremely resentful about Byrd for a number of reasons and that included the South Pole flight. Byrd Byrd kept Balchen in mystery as to whether Balchen was actually going to go on the South Pole flight. This had to be a great disappointment to Balchen, after all he had been left behind on the Norge and now he was not going to be on the South Pole flight and he only in the last minute was on the 1927 transatlantic flight. I think that this was Byrd's style of leadership to basically not make a commitment until the very end to keep people guessing.


Q: Can you tell me about the most dangerous moment in the South Pole flight? How did they get out of potential disaster?

RG: The weight of the plane was always critical and they had to fly over mountains to reach the South Pole. At one point they are facing an obstacle that they need to get more lift out of the plane and a decision is made to throw survival gear out of the plane, especially food that they would need if they had to crash land and wait for a rescue party. That helps with a lift. Balchen claims that he found an up draft that enabled the plane to go over. So even there there's dispute as to who gets the credit for the successful piloting of the plane.


Q: How close did they come to almost crashing? This is a really scary moment, isn't it?

RG: It was a very dangerous moment. The last few seconds they did manage to climb above the mountain and reach safety. But it was very careful, the planes are really quite delicate instruments, even back then.


Q: What unique skills and vision did Byrd have to be able to pull off an expedition of this size?

RG: Byrd as early as 1916, when he was organizing the naval reserve militia in Rhode Island, demonstrated unusual administrative ability. And administrative ability that executive ability was put to the test in all the details of planning for a two year stay in Antarctica. This was the largest expedition to visit Antarctica at that time to stay the longest and he involved himself in all the planing. The laboratories for the scientists, the airplanes, the base plans, it was a remarkable testament to Byrd's ability to involve himself in all the details from boots to gloves to planes.

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