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'I screamed in terror when I fell into the crevasse'

How the situation looked for those who were behind D'Hooge. When he disappeared they threw themselves down and crossed their skis to hold him back. When this photo was taken the entourage had gained control of the situation and was in the process of planning how to get the tour guide up the crevasse. FOTO: Timothy Galle

'I screamed in terror when I fell into the crevasse'

Experienced guide Brent D'Hooge needed a minute to regain his composure when he suddenly found himself hanging six meters down into a crevasse on Conwayjøkulen.

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28.04.2014 kl 08:07

"Until I made contact again with the others, I was really scared," D'Hooge said. "The glacier was totally white, with strong winds, and nobody could hear each other. I hung and dangled on the rope, and below me hung my dog sled."

He has returned home to Gent in Belgium after the dramatic Good Friday experience. He escaped the incident with a severe shoulder dislocation.



Ascending Newtontoppen
D'Hooge is a guide for Xplore the North, a company specializing in trips to the Arctic. His experience includes numerous expeditions in Lapland and three previous trips to Svalbard.

Before the accident at Conwayjøkulen his tour mates, consisting of six people with D'Hooge as the only guide, had ascended Newtontoppen on skis. They were on their way back to their pick-up location when the incident occurred.

"It had so happened that we had a good time, and I was doing a roundtrip to give guests something more to see, and went to Jacksonfjellet," he said. "But on the glacier it was soon very windy, what I call 'total whiteout.'" 



Securing himself 


Two hours before the accident, the Belgian guide saw signs in the ice that indicated it was not entirely safe. He decided the party should split into two teams. On the way to the destination, it became impossible to continue.

"It was such strong winds and such bad visibility I decided to turn around – and go back in the same footprints as the original route," D'Hooge said.

Because of the zero visibility, they followed the footprints back with the help of a GPS. But the party discovered the readings on the instrument didn't exactly match the previous tracking.

"Normally I would have gone to the back of the party, but since by then it was impossible to communicate with the participants in front of the course I had to take the lead," he said.

"The dog went first of all and it apparently went over a snow bridge. For suddenly I saw only a 'swoosh,' and then I hung in an abyss and screamed in panic."



Dog and sled stuck fast 

Those behind the guide threw themselves down and put their skis in a cross, preventing D'Hooge from falling further down. After a few minutes contact was established with the other rope team and he was lowered down until he had a strong snow bridge to stand on with his dog.

"I didn't discover at first that my shoulder was broken," he said. "For that I had too much adrenaline in the body. Before and after we had gotten an overview of the situation, I was determined to get up and continue the journey. But when the arm hardly worked at all, I decided to ask for the evacuation of all six."

It turned out to be a mistake to keep the emergency locator transmitter in the sledge that went foremost. The sled was jammed in the ice crevices and with only one functioning arm D'Hooge barely managed to get hold of this, several meters down the crevasse."



Evaluating 


Brent D'Hooge came up from the crack using the rope as it was pulled up by the other team and an ice pick as he pulled himself up by his good arm. The dog was dragged up by a rope afterwards.

Three hours later a window in the weather allowed the Svalbard governor's rescue helicopter to pick up the six skiers and the dog.

In retrospect, D'Hooge said there isn't much the company could have done differently.
"We live to guide people on trips like this and therefore take safety very seriously," he said. "Participants are trained in advance and most have experience with similar expeditions in places such as Nepal. We have concluded in situations like this one we are required to have an emergency locator transmitter for each rope team and that the transmitters should be be in the foremost sled. If I had been knocked unconscious in the fall the others would not have had access to the emergency transmitter. They would still have the satellite phone, but the transmitter is much more efficient to use in such a situation."

When is he coming back?

"I'm not sure, but I shall return, for it is a tremendously beautiful place," D'Hooge said. "Maybe as early as next year."

Nøkkelord

Se bildet større

Brent D'Hooge escaped from the dramatic episode on Conwayjøkulen with a dislocated shoulder. He said he plans to return to Svalbard for more expeditions. FOTO: Arild Lyssand/Sysselmannen

Se bildet større

The trekking group set up tents and resigned itself to having a long wait to be rescued. To the left is the crevasse that D'Hooge fell in. FOTO: Trond Olsen/Sysselmannen

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