General (R) Javier Lopetegui Torres

General (R) Javier Lopetegui Torres

Lopetegui-insetGeneral (R) Javier Lopetegui Torres spent more than 35 years immersed in Antarctic matters. Don Javier was a quiet and modest man. One might never suspect that he was responsible for furthering Chilean science deep in Antarctica and in many ways for the very existence of ALE.

In the early 1980’s, Lopetegui, a former pilot and Antarctic specialist, was Advisor on Antarctic Policy to the Commander in Chief of the Chilean Air Force (Fuerza Aérea de Chile, FACh). He recognized the potential for economic and strategic gains through the development of Chilean facilities in Southern Chile and in Antarctica – a position summed up in his 1986 book, Antartica – Un Desafio Perentorio (Antarctica – an Urgent Challenge). Lopetegui was instrumental in establishing the first community and hotel in Antarctica – Villa Las Estrellas – at King George Island; as well as furthering tourism to the interior of the continent.

Under Lopetegui’s guidance, Chile actively supported Yuichiro Miura, Dick Bass, and Frank Wells expedition to Mount Vinson in 1983, as part of their Seven Summits venture. This was in stark contrast to the position of the US National Science Foundation – who actively opposed private expeditions to Antarctica at the time. In this same year, he also collaborated on a joint mapping project with Dr. Charles Swithinbank, who was working for the British Antarctic Survey (BAS). The two efforts ‘collided’ in Punta Arenas, Chile, where the climbers were waiting to fly south. Giles Kershaw, pilot of their Tri-Turbo DC3, was an old friend of Swithinbank and Lopetegui was much interested in the capabilities of the aircraft. While in Punta Arenas, Swithinbank assisted Lopetegui in identifying a location for a new Chilean base (Carvajal) on the Antarctic Peninsula; as well as a site for a new fuel cache (Coal Nunatak) in order to extend operations southward.

In 1985, Pat Morrow, Martyn Williams and Giles Kershaw established Adventure Network International (ANI) with the aim of providing logistics for Vinson climbers and other Antarctic adventurers. Lopetegui – now retired – became the Chairman of ANI’s Chilean subsidiary and continued to pursue his policy of assisting access to Antarctica to the ultimate benefit – in economic and political terms – of his country. The following year ANI initiated a joint effort with the Chilean government to identify blue-ice areas for landing large, wheeled aircraft in the Ellsworth Mountains. Lopetegui arranged for fuel supplies at King George Island, Carvajal, and further inland, in exchange for whatever ANI could find out about blue-ice airfields. Kershaw asked Swithinbank to the lead the expedition.

Swithinbank’s survey of Patriot Hills’ blue-ice runway revealed that it was suitable for landing large, wheeled aircraft with the capacity to fly direct from Punta Arenas to Antarctica. Proving flights by ANI’s DC-4 took place in November 1987, despite pressure from the US State Department for Chile to deny permission for the aircraft to proceed to Antarctica. A successful season at Patriot Hills paved the way for ANI’s growth and success, as well as the establishment of a Chilean base (Arturo Parodi) and an active research program in the region.

ANI’s early expeditions could not have proceeded without the active support of Lopetegui and the Chilean government. Lopetegui was involved integrally in ANI’s operations for many years and, when ANI was purchased by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), he remained a well-respected advisor to the company. His legacy of collaboration between Chilean scientists, FACh and ALE is alive and well at our Union Glacier location and was highlighted with the opening a new Chilean base, Estación Polar Científica Conjunta Glaciar Unión (EPCCGU), at Union Glacier.

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