Q: How close did the expedition come to staying on the ice and why and how
panicked was Byrd about that?
ER: Byrd's expedition was due to be picked up by his ships and taken back to
civilization in the spring of 1930. The ships had to get through the ice pack
that surrounded Antarctica. And that year the ice pack was stronger and
thicker and wider than usual. The ships had a hard time getting through. In
fact, even the whalers in their big steel ships weren't sure they could get
through. At least one whaler was sunk in the pack ice. So it really looked
for a while as if Byrd's ships couldn't get through to pick him up and he would
have to spend another winter there. Of course for Byrd this was disastrous.
That it would diminish the impact of his expedition and he was counting on a
big impact to make the big bucks to pay off the expedition and to make his own
profit and to finance future expeditions. He had things to do. Other men had
their lives to live. And they didn't want to spend another year there. And
without a strong goal like the science, and particularly the flight to the
South Pole and the flights of geographical discovery they had no mission. Byrd
had all these young men with nothing to do. He knew and others knew that it
would be a rough time. There would be fights, there would be boredom, there
might be mutiny. Byrd did not want to stay another winter. And he begged the
whalers to pick them up in their ships. When they finally got through he said
you must come and get to Little America because we have sick men here who need
to be picked up. Well there weren't men that were, that were that sick but he
said that to entice the whalers there. He got his people back home to put
political pressure on the whaling companies to order their ships down there.
Finally the man who ran Byrd's stateside office found millionaires and other
people who were willing to foot the bill to pay the whalers the money that they
would lose by rescuing Byrd. So when the whalers did finally get through the
pack ice they agreed to pick up Byrd's expedition. And Byrd did finally get
out. But it was touch and go for a while. There was a big national story at
the time. Byrd's Antarctic expedition stranded on the ice, a big story.