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Have you driven a fjord lately? An expedition of CEOs search for a squadron of fighter planes, 48 years lost, 100 feet below the Greenland Icecap.

As 80-mile-per-hour winds pounded his survival tent on the edge of the Greenland Icecap, Burt Avedon could hear the explosions caused by giant icebergs cracking off the distant glacier and collapsing into the North Atlantic. Magnetic storms had cut off radio contact with the outside world.

“It’s times like that when you find out what you’re really made of,” recalls Avedon, president of New York-based sportswear manufacturer Willis and Geiger, and no stranger to adventure, having flown the China run for Clare Chennault’s Flying Tigers, and commanded the air group aboard the USS Kennedy.

Avedon camped out on a 700,000square-mile frozen desert of ice and snow measuring 10,000 feet at its deepest point. “When you first see the icecap, you can’t believe it’s real,” he recalls. Complete with wave patterns and islands, it overwhelms the horizon, covering 85 percent of Greenland‘s surface.

Somewhere nearby, six rare P-38 fighters and two B-17 Flying Fortresses lay entombed under 100 feet of ice, abandoned en route to England in 1942 after running out of fuel in an ice storm. Avedon and a team of scientists were on a privately financed mission to locate the planes, which were thought to have drifted miles from their original positions.

Avedon narrowed the search area by plotting glacial drift from a spotter plane and by lowering himself into 100-foot crevasses. “You can calculate the glacier’s age like an ice tree. The seasons and years are mirrored on the ice walls.” But this time something was wrong. All day their instruments picked up no trace of the aircraft. Avedon kept rechecking his calculations. At 3:00 a.m. he realized “you dumb S.O.B., you’ve plotted the ice drift 180 degrees in the wrong direction!”

After breaking camp and marching for hours across the plateau, magnetometers indicated they were standing directly over the planes. The lost squadron had been found. Avedon is one of a tiny but zealous band of CEO Greenland buffs who have explored the northernmost land and largest island on earth and found, in Avedon’s words, “a totally exhilarating country, a frontier where you experience a primal sense of adventure.”

You don’t have to pitch a tent on the icecap, though, to enjoy the bizarre beauty of Greenland. It is more accessible than many think, and from June to early September a brief arctic summer blossoms in the ice-free coastal regions where temperatures climb into the 60s.

Greenland boasts some of the cleanest and widest open spaces on earth: Soaring Alpine mountains flanking majestic fjords rich with trout and salmon; rugged back country of lakes and waterfalls reminiscent of the highlands of Scotland and Colorado, dotted with exotic Arctic flowers and miniature birch and willow trees.

With parts of Greenland as far west as Boston and as far east as Dakar, Senegal, the island is a superpower in size, but Lilliputian in population-just 40,000 Greenlanders (as the Eskimo, or Inuit people are called) and 10,000 Danish nationals eke out a rugged existence on a colonial outpost at the fringe of civilization, where winter brings months of total darkness and temperatures below minus 30 degrees.

A self-governing territory of Denmark, Greenland is home to charming colonial fishing villages where you can stay in comfortable European-class hotels and dine by candlelight on medallions of reindeer in port wine sauce as you look out over a harbor where narwhales frolic between 150-foot icebergs.

For years, IBM Chairman Emeritus Thomas Watson, Jr. had been “fascinated with the Arctic and with the legends of the Greenland Vikings,” so he built a 68-foot schooner (see photo) specially equipped for polar travel, gathered a crew of 12 and several fellow CEOs and family members and set sail for Greenland. “It’s an absolutely unbelievable country, where every day brings new surprises,” Watson discovered. “In high summer, there are 23 to 24 hours of sunlight. We saw all kinds of animal life-Arctic birds, caribou, musk ox and hare. We passed an entire island populated by wild dogs.”

Greenland‘s first CEO was Erik the Red, an overexuberant Viking

whose murderous rampages offended even his rambunctious fellow Norsemen, who expelled him from Norway and then Iceland. With no more countries left to

flee, Erik stumbled upon Greenland in the summer of 986, and was delighted by its uninhabited and fertile southern fjord areas. He slipped hack to Iceland and persuaded a flotilla of land-hungry Vikings to settle the new frontier,

which he christened “Greenland” in an act of marketing savvy, if perhaps not complete truth in advertising.

The sudden disappearance of the Greenland Vikings in the late 1400s has sparked lively debate among historians. The most logical theory seems to be that the colonists, living only a marginal peasant existence at the very edge of the sea link with Europe, succumbed to a series of crueler-than-usual winters.

As Watson sailed past the green valley of Gardar and looked across Eriksfjord to Erik’s farmstead at Bratthalid, though, he could easily see what originally attracted the Norse pioneers to this place-wide Alpine meadows and hillsides clutched with heather, berries and tall grass. He could also easily imagine the scene here 1,000 years ago: Erik waved goodbye as his son Leif Ericsson hoisted sail on his Viking long ship and set off on a journey to explore the forests of North America 500 years before Columbus.

Greenland‘s capital, Nuuk, lies at the mouth of a long fjord system popular with hunters and fishermen. The Greenland National Museum features intriguing exhibits on Eskimo culture, including the frozen family of 500-year-old mummies discovered at Qilakitsoq.

Downtown Nuuk is also home to a surprising number of nightclubs, many connected by underground passageways, so residents can avoid being battered by the gale force winds and savage cold of winter. A “grand tour” will take you from the Disco 2000 Palace, where a young Eskimo rock-and-roll band rushes through a spirited rendition of Elvis Presley’s “Don’t Be Cruel,” to the Tudor Pub, an accurate replica of a raucous English pub in the middle of Greenland, to a country-and-western bar populated by dangerous-looking characters in motorcycle jackets.

Halfway up the island and 300 miles above the Arctic Circle lies Jakobshavn, a fishing town of 4,500 next to one of nature’s special-effects masterpieces, the Jakobshavn Ice Glacier. Fed by inexorable currents of the Icecap, it disgorges 200- and 300-foothigh icebergs into Disko Bay, causing dynamite-like blasts.

Jinko Gotoh, president of Entertainment Alia, Inc., a Los Angeles-based film production company, has visited Greenland twice. She found the mammoth iceberg fields of Jakobshavn to be “completely bizarre, like being on another planet.” The landscape around the glacier is otherworldly, too, with rolling lunar hills and dwarf shrubs that creep up from the rocks and then shoot sideways for several feet to avoid the intense winter winds.

As Greenland has no highways or railroads, and sea travel is reliable only in summer, the island is connected by a unique rapid-transit system operated by Greenlandair. Their fleet consists of short-take-off-and-landing planes and sturdy 25-passenger helicopters that hop from town to town.

Traveling to Greenland requires careful and advance, but worthwhile planning. IBM’s Watson first saw the island from the deck of his yacht: “The fog lifted, showing us the most magnificent view of the Greenland coast, the mountains and the Icecap beyond-it was one of the most fantastic sights I’ve ever seen.”

For more information, call Greenland-air (direct dial from the U.S. 011-29924488).


Today, 48 years after 25 young U.S. airmen successfully executed the largest forced landing in aviation history on the Greenland Icecap (they kept their wheels up and made a belly landing), and four years after Burt Avedon’s expedition established the aircraft’s location, efforts are under way to physically recover the Lost Squadron.

Although the mission’s pilots were rescued unharmed by dogsled after spending 17 days on the ice, nobody knows if the eight planes left behind are in mint condition or were torn apart by glacial stresses.

Optimists include the Atlanta-based Greenland Expedition Society, a group of executives and aviation buffs that includes Pat Epps, CEO of Epps Air Service, Bobbie Bailey, president of compressor manufacturer Our Way, and architect Richard Taylor. The group made its first physical contact with the planes in the summer of 1989, using steam and coring drills to bore down 250 feet and pull up what’s believed to be a piece of a B-17’s wing.

Beginning in summer 1990, the Society hopes to mount a multimillion-dollar herculean effort to sink shafts around the crash site large enough to pull up and reassemble the planes in sections.

The first plane will be donated to a Danish museum, and salvage rights for the others will help defray costs of the expedition.

For information about the expedition, contact: The Greenland Expedition Society, Inc., 3080 East Shadowlawn Avenue, Atlanta, Georgia, 30305.

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