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Last Updated: Wednesday, 5 May, 2004, 06:10 GMT 07:10 UK
Choice that ended my polar dream
Polly Vacher and her Piper Dakota
Ms Vacher broke three records during her voyage.
Solo pilot Polly Vacher wanted to be the first person to fly solo around the world via both poles in a single-engine aircraft

The 60-year-old of Drayton, Oxfordshire, tells BBC News Online how she lost out on her attempt to break the record - but gained some perspective.

The wind was blowing hard and my poor G-FRGN, my little Piper Dakota, was struggling and my fuel disappearing fast.

I was so near yet so far from achieving that elusive goal of flying around the world single-handed via both the Poles.

I had flown over the North Pole and now I was trying to conquer the South Pole.

I suddenly found myself making one of the hardest decisions in my life.

But was it that hard? What were the alternatives?

Running out of fuel and crash landing on the desolate Ross Ice Shelf was a gloomy prospect. I would almost definitely damage my aircraft. I would probably injure or kill myself and I might injure or kill someone who came to rescue me.

This was not an option so I turned the plane around and returned to the Antarctic Peninsula.

When I finally saw the white cliffs of Dover on a clear sunny day, the tears rolled down my cheeks.
Polly Vacher

At first I was gutted, but it only took a few minutes for me to think about the Flying Scholarships for the Disabled charity I was flying for.

Each and every one of them has a physical disability and I thought that if I felt gutted how must they feel when for example they have had an accident and found themselves in a wheelchair for life?

This very quickly put it all in the right perspective and I sat back and enjoyed a tailwind and the wonderful scenery I was so privileged to see.

After a day to recover from my disappointment, I was faced with the agonising problem of trying to arrange fuel to be shipped in for me to make a further attempt.

In the end this proved fruitless and so without enough fuel to cross the Antarctic and with the weather showing no signs of improvement I knew my hopes of flying around the poles was over.

I had to try to put my disappointment behind me and concentrate on my other record attempt - to be the first person to fly around the world in a single engine aircraft landing on all seven continents.

Polly Vacher and her husband Peter
Polly Vacher has set three new aviation records

Since I couldn't go over the Antarctic, I would have to find another way to fly to New Zealand.

The only way was to fly back to California and across the Pacific, island-hopping as I had done on my last flight.

This in itself was a daunting prospect. I had to fly an extra 14,000 nautical miles which in the end took 133 flying hours in 29 days.

Each day I flew an average seven to nine hours from New Zealand right back to the UK via Australia, the Far East, the Middle East, Egypt and into Europe.

On one occasion over Brazil I opened the cockpit door and was hit by a blast of hot air and the temperature gauge registered 67C briefly before it broke with the strain.

'Elation and tears'

The longest of flights took 16 hours as we ploughed our way across the Pacific from California to Hawaii, a distance of 2,068 nautical miles.

As I made my way back to the UK I reflected on the many people who I had met.

Everywhere I went I was greeted with warmth and hospitality.

When I finally saw the white cliffs of Dover on a clear sunny day, the tears rolled down my cheeks.

On being passed to the first British controller I was so choked that I couldn't speak to him.

These were tears of joy, elation and tears of sheer emotion as I reached my beloved homeland after nearly a year of what had become the greatest challenge of my life, the most exciting challenge of my life, and the most satisfying and rewarding challenge one could ever want to experience.

Polly Vacher set three new records:

First woman to fly solo in a single engine aircraft over the North Pole.

The first woman to fly solo in a single engine aircraft in Antarctica.

First person to fly around the world in a single engine aircraft landing on all seven continents.




SEE ALSO:
Record-breaker pilot touches down
27 Apr 04  |  Oxfordshire
Pilot's fuel resolves diplomatic row
12 Dec 03  |  Oxfordshire
Solo pilot 'may solve row'
12 Dec 03  |  Oxfordshire
Solo pilot lands in Antarctica
02 Dec 03  |  Oxfordshire
Pilot flies over North Pole
27 May 03  |  Oxfordshire
Prince waves off pilot
06 May 03  |  Oxfordshire


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