Arctic expedition cancelled after airship crashes

PARIS (Reuters) - A major expedition to measure the thickness of the Arctic pack ice was cancelled on Tuesday after the mission’s airship was torn from its moorings in southern France by gale-force winds and smashed into a house.

French explorer Jean-Louis Etienne had planned to depart on March 1 from Paris on a 10,000-kilometer (6,200 mile) voyage that was expected to provide a benchmark for monitoring the impact of global warming on the Polar Basin.

“The expedition is cancelled with this airship,” a spokeswoman said.

“But Jean-Louis Etienne hopes to find another way of measuring the ice cap and perhaps he may put together another expedition,” she added.

The project, sponsored by French oil group Total, had taken four years to prepare and cost 7 million euros ($10.15 million), half of which was spent on building the specially designed, helium-filled airship.

Etienne’s scientific mission was due to take him from the Barents Sea to Spitsbergen, the magnetic North Pole and Beaufort Sea and reach Alaska in May.

No one was injured in Tuesday’s accident, when a gust of wind lifted the airship off its mast and took it 30 meters (100 ft) into the air before throwing it down into a house.

Reporting by Marie Maitre and Astrid Wendlandt; editing by Crispian Balmer and Ralph Boulton