Russell Thompson writes of the death of Alan Sharman at Admiralty Bay in Antarctica.
I was with Alan at the time of his death and would like you to share my diary entry for that horrific day.
Another fine day ,but completed meteorological charts in the morning. In the afternoon, Alan and self took two huskies Eddie and Nadia for an enjoyable walk on the beach around the Keller Peninsula. Then, we decided to return to base via the ridge, a few hundred meters high, to do a sea ice observation. On the way up, the going became difficult as we encountered a very loose scree slope so Alan decided that we should head up over a snow hollow. Alan led the climb, kicking steps in the hard snow since unfortunately we were without climbing equipment for the occasion. We soon discovered that the snow was very icy and steep and Eddie (a very large husky) slipped a few times narrowly missing both of us. Alan was about six feet ahead of me and a few feet to the right when he slipped (possibly due to Eddie slipping and knocking him off balance, I don’t know for sure since I didn’t see what actually happened) and fell shouting save me as he rapidly hurtled past me head first and disappeared out of sight over the edge of the snow bank.
Plaque on Alan Sharman's Cross at Admiralty Bay
I shouted to see if he was alright but received no answer so I set off down the snow bank to see what had happened to Alan. In my panic I slipped and fell down the same slope fortunately feet first and shot over the edge of the snow bank and saw before me a pile of rocks and below them lay Alan with blood all around his body. I thought this is it and shot into the rocks and was dazed. When I came to my senses, I was lying alongside Alan who looked terrible with his poor face smashed in. I was shocked and stunned and I knew that he was dead. I had merely sustained slight injuries to my back and shoulder but Alan must have fallen the 30 meters or so head first into the rocks at great speed fracturing his skull.
I struggled back to base with Nadia, over the ridge with all its hazards, clutching my injured arm and shouting all the way down to the hut. When I came to the Flagstaff Glacier somebody heard me and Jeff and Evan ran up to meet me. I told them the tragic news and when we returned to base, everybody set off along the beach with sledge, stretchers etc to go and help. I led them to the spot where Alan’s body was located, which was put on the sledge and man-hauled back to base. I strolled back along the beach with Ken, not being able to believe that this terrible thing had happened. I hardly slept that night, aching in mind and body. Why should it have happened? Alan was such a wonderful fellow and an expert mountaineer. It could have been me very easily if I hadn’t fallen feet first unlike poor Alan. It has certainly shaken me.... I will never go climbing again or indeed go up any slope which is in the slightest way difficult."
The base members took three days to dig a grave in the permafrost and Denis "Tink" Bell and Ken Gibson built a suitable and fine coffin. Alan was laid to rest in a funeral service on the afternoon of the 27th April. It was a simple and nice service and the wretched weather was typical of the place, adding its sympathy to the sad occasion. Very sadly too, "Tink" died down a crevasse on the 28th July 1959 but we were unable to recover his body and give him a proper grave. My diary entry for that day ended .. " But the terrible thing is that it happened and I can’t believe that " Tink " is now lying dead at the bottom of a crevasse. It is a vile and cruel continent. "
Photographs of Alan's Coffin and Alan's Grave
Cross and grave of Alan Sharman visited in 1968. Photo by Ian Sykes