Antarctic conquerors to return home

A four-strong team of Antarctic explorers who made history by becoming the first Irish expedition ever to reach the South Pole are due to arrive home tonight.

A four-strong team of Antarctic explorers who made history by becoming the first Irish expedition ever to reach the South Pole are due to arrive home tonight.

The squad – Pat Falvey, 50, Dr Clare O’Leary, 35, Shaun Menzies, 42, and Jonathon Bradshaw, 36, – are expected to fly into Cork Airport at around 7pm.

They arrived at the pole just over a week ago after almost 60 days of trekking 1,140km through some of the harshest conditions known to man, battling icy winds and constant sub-zero temperatures.

Writing in his online blog from a hotel room in Chile on the first leg of their homeward journey, team leader Mr Falvey said they were looking forward to arriving on home soil.

“I’m totally exhausted now after organising our gear from the plane, about to have my first proper shower in months. The rest are asleep at the moment.

“We are delighted to have the second leg of our journey home over. We are now confident on getting home to Ireland on Thursday.

“It was weird stepping on to unfrozen ground for the first time today in nearly 80 days. Can’t wait to be home,” he wrote.

Bad weather at the pole forced the group to wait almost a week before flying off the Antarctic.

After the weather calmed they were flown to a small airfield on the western fringes of the Antarctic where a large Russian Ilyushin aircraft brought them to Punta Arenas in Chile.

They are expected to be greeted to a warm welcome by family and friends when they touch down tonight.

The group set out on their expedition on November 8 and have retraced the steps of some of the world’s best known explorers such as Ernest Shackleton and Tom Crean.

They arrived at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station at 8.30pm Irish time on January 8.

However because of strict US protocol they could not sleep, wash or eat inside the premises.

Instead the explorers were only able to sit in the canteen for warmth and watch the scientists based there eat before returning to their tents outside to sleep.

Tributes were paid to the intrepid explorers last week by Taoiseach Bertie Ahern and President Mary McAleese.

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