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British adventurers abandon quest to cross Bering Strait

Posted: Monday, April 08, 2002

ANCHORAGE -- A pair of British adventurers have abandoned their attempt to drive an extensively modified snowcat across the Bering Strait this year, according to a producer for a cable television network who accompanied the expedition.

With Russian border authorities threatening to arrest them if they cross the international boundary, Steve Brooks and Graham Stratford ended their journey after piloting their strange craft to, or perhaps a little over, the International Dateline on Sunday afternoon, said Celia Carey, who has been filming the endeavor. The dateline forms the U.S-Russia boundary in the Bering Strait.

The men then returned with their machine to Little Diomede.

''It looks like permissions are not going to come,'' Carey said in a telephone interview from Wales, on the Alaska mainland. ''They're going to turn around because the weather is getting bad again.''

There was no Russian presence at the boundary and no confrontations of any sort, Carey said, though the men did vent their frustration with gestures toward the far side of the water.

On Saturday, the pair piloted their customized snow cat as far as Little Diomede Island, the halfway point on the 56-mile trip between Wales and Russia and the furthest anyone has driven a motorized vehicle in challenging the strait in winter. They halted there and hoped to get final permission to continue.

''They're just missing this one piece of paper,'' Carey said. ''Steve (Brooks) spent about $15,000 the last three years on permissions. He flew to Russia three times and got six letters of support.''

The pair started their trek Friday morning.

The situation with the Russians is ''a bit baffling,'' given that Ice Challenger's international paperwork was in order, said Harry Rouse, the team's base manager in Wales.

Earlier, a British intermediary went to Moscow to secure a letter of permission from the governor of Chukotka, the Russian state where Ice Challenger wants to land, he said. Brooks and Stratford also have Russian visas.

It's not clear if the pair will motor back to Wales, Carey said, but it's more likely they will leave the machine at Little Diomede to be picked up later. ''It's pretty fair to say they're not going to continue to the (Russian) mainland.''

But the craft did very well on the crossing to Little Diomede, she said.

''He (Brooks) is pretty psyched about how the machine worked. They definitely could have made it.''

Last year, the British team scrapped a similar effort when its snow cat suffered damage to its flotation devices during testing.

In 2000, Brooks tried to pilot a Hummer attached to a Hovercraft but got stuck in snowdrifts a few hundred feet off the beach.



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