Former Army Officer Henry Worsley has died after being forced to prematurely end his attempt to become the first person to cross the Antarctic unaided.
Henry had just completed a 36 year career in the British Army, serving with the Royal Green Jackets and later the Rifles Regiment, and retiring in October last year.
Since childhood he had pursued a passionate interest in the lives of the Antarctic explorers of the Edwardian age, and undertook the solo expedition in the spirit of Sir Ernest Shackleton.
A former Lieutenant Colonel and Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Green Jackets, he was fulfilling his dream of crossing the Antarctic continent, and was delighted to have exceeded his goal of raising £100,000 for the Endeavour Fund, a charity founded to help the recovery of injured servicemen and women.
Henry leaves behind his wife Joanna and children Max and Alicia. Joanna has given the following statement:
‘It is with heartbroken sadness I let you know that my husband Henry Worsley has died following complete organ failure; despite all efforts of ALE and medical staff.
"Henry achieved his Shackleton Solo goals: of raising over £100,000 for the Endeavour Fund, to help his wounded colleagues, and so nearly completing the first unsupported crossing of the Antarctic landmass.
"A crossing made, under exceptionally difficult weather conditions, to mark the 100th anniversary of Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Endurance expedition – his lifelong hero.
"On behalf of myself and family I wish to thank the many hundreds of you who have shown unfailing support to Henry throughout his courageous final challenge and great generosity to the Endeavour Fund."
The Duke of Cambridge was the patron of Henry's expedition, and called him to speak about how the expedition was going on Christmas Day. He said:
"[Prince] Harry and I are very sad to hear of the loss of Henry Worsley. He was a man who showed great courage and determination and we are incredibly proud to be associated with him."
"Even after retiring from the Army, Henry continued to show selfless commitment to his fellow servicemen and women, by undertaking this extraordinary Shackleton solo expedition on their behalf.
"We have lost a friend, but he will remain a source of inspiration to us all, especially those who will benefit from his support to the Endeavour Fund."
"We will now make sure that his family receive the support they need at this terribly difficult time."
Henry arrived at his start point of Berkner Island, Antarctica, in November last year, to complete the first ever solo unsupported and unassisted crossing of the Antarctic landmass, 100 years after Sir Ernest Shackleton's ill-fated Endurance trip.
Shackleton's journey, which hoped to reach the Pole by 1915, set sail from the shores of South Devon for the 'ends of the earth', but was unsuccessful.
Battling freezing temperatures, high winds and treacherous ice, Henry was attempting to trek to the South Pole and then travel to the other side of the land mass, carrying his own food on a sledge.
Shackleton on one of his Antarctic expeditions
After having walked 913 statute miles unsupported and unassisted for 70 days, battling extreme weather conditions, he made the decision, in Shackleton’s words, to "shoot the bolt”, 30 miles short of his ultimate goal.
When Henry was picked up by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), he was suffering from exhaustion and dehydration. He was flown to a hospital in Punta Arenas, Chile, where he was found to have bacterial peritonitis.
This resulted in Henry undergoing surgery but in spite of all the efforts of ALE and medical staff, he succumbed.
In his last statement sent from Antarctica, Henry explained why he had set out across the ice:
"I set out on this journey to attempt the first solo unsupported crossing of the Antarctic landmass, a feat of endurance never before achieved. But more importantly, to raise support for The Endeavour Fund, to assist wounded soldiers in their rehabilitation.
"Having been a career soldier for 36 years and recently retired, it has been a way of giving back to those far less fortunate than me.
"The 71 days alone on the Antarctic with over 900 statute miles covered and a gradual grinding down of my physical endurance finally took its toll today, and it is with sadness that I report it is journey’s end – so close to my goal."
Henry's previous expeditions include a trip in 2008-09 to commemorate the centenary of Shackleton’s 1907/09 ‘Nimrod’ journey, which pioneered a route through the Transantarctic Mountains via the Beardmore Glacier to a point just 97 miles short of the South Pole.
The centenary journey – comprised of descendants of the original party – retraced the original route, arriving at Shackleton’s Furthest South exactly 100 years to the day, before completing the journey to the Pole.
To commemorate the centenary of Captain Scott’s and Roald Amundsen’s expeditions, Henry returned to Antarctica 2011-12, leading a team of six soldiers in a race along the original 1912 routes to be first to the South Pole.
He led the Amundsen route from the Bay of Whales, up the Axel Heiberg Glacier to the South Pole, a 900 mile unsupported journey. In so doing, he became the only person to have completed the two classic routes of Shackleton, Scott and Amundsen to the South Pole.
General Sir Nick Carter, Chief of the General Staff, said:
"It is with huge sadness that we hear of Henry Worsley’s death. His many friends and colleagues in the Army will be deeply saddened.
"He was a remarkable man attempting an extraordinary feat for the worthiest of worthy personal causes - raising money for wounded veterans.
"His heroic achievements are an inspiration to us all. Our hearts go out to Joanna, Max and Alicia, his family and many friends."
Career Facts: Lt Col (Retd) Alistair Edward Henry Worsley MBE RIFLES
- 1980: Commissioned into the infantry battalion, The Royal Green Jackets
- 1993: Awarded an MBE for service on operations in Northern Ireland
- 1993 to 1996: Chief of Staff of 143 (West Midlands) Brigade
- 2000 to 2003: Commanding Officer, 2nd Battalion The Royal Green Jackets
- 2002: Awarded the Queen's Commendation for Valuable Service
- 3rd October 2015: Left the British Army after a distinguished 36 year career