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Dr Roy Koerner

ONE of Portsmouth's most intrepid adventurers and explorers has died at the age of 75.

Roy 'Fritz' Martindale Koerner attracted national and international public acclaim when he took part in the first surface crossing of the Arctic between Point Barrow in Alaska and the Norwegian island of Svalbard – a journey of 3,620 miles.

The crossing, between February 1968 and May 1969, was often a dangerous and difficult affair.

The four-man team of Wally Herbert, the expedition's leader, Alan Gill, Ken Hedges and Dr Koerner suffered the hazards of crevasses, ice floes melting in the Arctic summer, blizzards in the winter as well as the constant menace of marauding polar bears.

The team was supplied by air through contact between radio operator Hedges and Squadron Leader Freddie Church in Canada who ensured supplies were dropped by the Royal Canadian Air Force.

As a result of his efforts, Dr Koerner became an MBE and had a second clasp added to his Polar Medal. Wally Herbert, at a later stage, was knighted.

In 1994, Dr Koerner became a Canadian citizen and later the country's representative to the international Arctic science committee and remained in that post until he died at the end of last month.

All of this was a very different world from the one he knew as the youngest of three brothers living in Kimbolton Road, Copnor, Portsmouth.

His mum was a housewife and his dad worked in the dockyard.

After the Second World War, Dr Koerner secured a scholarship to read geography at the University of Sheffield where he graduated in 1954. After graduating he had spells as a teacher and taught at schools in Bridgemary, Gosport.

Although he was renowned as an esteemed glaciologist, Dr Koerner trained as a meteorologist and joined the Falkland Islands Dependencies Survey – now the British Antarctic Survey – in 1957.

He spent the next two-and-a-half years as senior meteorologist and glaciologist at Hope Bay, the survey's station on the northern tip of the Atlantic peninsula. It was here that he briefly met Wally Herbert, who was about to return to Britain.

His duties mostly kept him at Hope Bay, but he did take part in several short journeys by dog sledge. He received the Polar Medal for his work in 1963 and the 2,000ft Koerner Rock near the base was named after him.

After the crossing of the Arctic Ocean Dr Koerner joined the department of Energy, Mines and Resources in Ottawa as a research scientist and head of the Ice Core Laboratory. Although he was officially retired Roy Koerner went up to the Arctic as he always did during the winter to carry out research. This winter he was sent home sick.

He died on May 26, which was his mother's birthday.

Born July 3, 1932; died May 26, 2008.

 
 
 

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