Tragedy befalls polar trekker

Searchers think skier slipped into an open lead.



IQALUIT — A Japanese adventurer who vanished north of Ellesmere Island last week was probably swallowed up by a crack in the sea ice, searchers say.

Hyoichi Kohno, 43, disappeared without a trace May 17, leaving behind a toboggan full of food and survival gear, plus one ski and one ski pole.

Two spotter flights to the area over the weekend found no sign of Kohno. By Monday, four days after he went missing, search-and-rescue officials decided Kohno was dead and called off the search.

According to Capt. Keith Hoey of the Canadian Forces Rescue Coordination Centre in Trenton, Ont., searchers on the flights said the area was riddled with rotten ice.

They speculate that Kohno, who was travelling alone, tried to cross an open lead, fell into the freezing water and could not claw his way out.

Winds probably closed the pack ice over the top of his body, Hoey said.

The adventurer was on the first leg of an ambitious six-year effort to travel overland from the North Pole to his native Japan. He was dropped off at the pole in late April and began skiing south, hoping to cover 15,000 kilometres by foot, ski and kayak through Northern Canada, Alaska, Russia and Japan.

Kohno disappeared about 100 kilometres off the north coast of Ellesmere Island, Hoey said.

Kohno’s support crew in Resolute Bay began to worry on May 17, when they didn’t receive the satellite-locator transmission he’d promised to send every evening before making camp.

When he failed to make a scheduled satellite-phone call the next day, his support crew chartered a First Air Twin Otter to find him.

Flying over the site, they were horrified to see only Kohno’s abandoned belongings amidst the millions of acres of ice.

The next day, crew on a Canadian Forces search plane from the Eureka weather station saw the same thing, with no trace of Kohno to be found.

“He had five methods of contacting or signaling, and none of them have been heard from,” Hoey said. “Certainly one of them should have survived if he was on the go.”

Though Kohno had skied successfully to the North Pole in 1997, his recent expedition was beset by mishaps from the beginning. In March he aborted his first try at skiing south from the pole after suffering severe frostbite only five days into the trip.

The month he spent recuperating in Resolute Bay may have cost him his life, forcing him to travel later in the season, when open water and rotten ice are more common in the Arctic Ocean.

Rescue officials said they will not attempt to recover Kohno’s body or gear.

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