On 7 May 2015 former soldier Peter Bowker, who lost a leg while serving in Afghanistan, set off with four companions to ski nearly 600 km (373 miles) across the Greenland ice cap.
His successful attempt to make the world’s first unsupported crossing of the vast ice sheet by an amputee relied on Inmarsat satcoms for medical and emergency back-up and to share the adventure in real time with the media and supporters.
Peter Bowker and his team of former British Army and Royal Marines personnel and a doctor pitted themselves against distance, fatigue, temperatures as low as -37°C and resident polar bears in his world record-making attempt.
The five-strong 65 Degrees North ‘On Ice’ adventurers spent 27 days in the icy wilderness, travelling some 600 km (373 miles) between Kangerlussuaq in the West and Kulusuk in the East on skis. As this was an unsupported crossing, they had to pull pulks, a type of sled, carrying all their food, clothing and survival equipment – each weighing up to 300 lbs (137 kg).
Fortunately for the challengers, the mobile satellite communications kit they carried was lightweight and compact, as well as rugged enough to cope with the extreme environment and capable of gaining a reliable connection at such high latitudes.
Inmarsat partner Cobham Satcom provided two ultra-portable Explorer 510 BGAN terminals, smaller than a standard laptop and weighing less than 3 lbs (1.4 kg). Despite being at the outer reaches of the Inmarsat-4 satellite coverage area, the team could access simultaneous voice and broadband data communications 24/7.
Crucially, this meant team doctor Meinir Jones could conduct telemedicine consultations with fellow medical specialists back in the UK when she had concerns about the effect 10 hours a day on skis and the harsh conditions had on Peter’s amputated limb, sending images or having live video consultations.
The team also used BGAN to send regular updates for social media, transmit footage and to conduct live media interviews, further spreading awareness of their record bid and fundraising efforts for UK charity Help for Heroes.
They also had two IsatPhone 2 satellite phones with them, provided by Inmarsat along with all the airtime they needed for the phones and BGAN, plus solar panels and wind-up batteries for recharging.
The robust IsatPhone 2 handset is specially engineered for the toughest environments, and has an unrivalled battery life of eight hours; 160 hours on standby. It also offers reassuring safety features – an emergency assistance button which sends GPS location data and a text message to a pre-set contact number, and a tracking capability which transmits location information to allow the team’s progress to be monitored online.
Bren-Tronics also provided the team with solar panels and wind-up batteries for recharging the devices, as well as a GRC tracking platform to enable authorised users to see real time positional information as they crossed the ice cap.
Determined Peter Bowker was only 15 years old when he successfully applied to join the British Army and the Queen’s Dragoon Guards at the age of 16. He became the youngest non-commissioned officer in his unit and was deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan.
Medically discharged in 2012 aged 25 following the loss of his right leg, he has since focused on inspiring others through Help for Heroes and the Prince’s Trust. He has also trained as a PADI diving instructor.
His Greenland ice cap record bid was supported by the Endeavour Fund, set up by the Royal Foundation of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry to support sporting and adventure challenges undertaken by wounded, injured and sick service personnel or veterans.