USC alumni off to Antarctica to recover family history
Two USC alums are traveling to the ends of the earth hoping to help one recover a piece of his family history along the way.
Bob Byrd Breyer, class of 1970, is the grandson of Admiral Richard Evelyn Byrd, one of the first explorers to venture to Antarctica. Admiral Byrd wanted to be the first to make it to the South Pole, but his plans went astray when a storm wrecked his plane.
Almost half a century later, Breyer is going to get his grandfather’s plane back and he’s taking a fellow Trojan with him.
Andrea Donnellan, a 2003 graduate and a seven-time visitor to Antarctica, approached Breyer in 2005 at the 100th birthday of Norman Vaughn, the last surviving crewmember from Byrd’s expedition.
Donnellan and Breyer discussed the trip and the stranded plane. Donnellan told Breyer she knew where the plane was — sitting on top of the ice, despite experts who said it was likely buried. It was at that party that Donnellan and Breyer decided they were going to try to retrieve the plane.
But before they could get their plans off the ground, Donnellan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease — a chronic, progressive disease that brings symptoms of tremors and rigidity, with no known cure.
The Byrd Aircraft Recovery Expedition, which initially was hoping to just find the plane, has since changed its plans. The two are still heading to Antarctica, but they’re also hoping to help find a cure for Parkinson’s by raising money.
The team will start its journey with a fundraiser on Oct. 10. Breyer said the expedition budget is $10 million, with $7 million going to the trek itself and $3 million going to Parkinson’s disease research.
Once the fundraising stage is complete, the team plans to take a boat to Antarctica, as close to the location of the plane as possible. The team will then melt the plane out of the ice and ship it back to the United States.
“We know exactly where it is and how to get it,” Breyer said.
Still, the expedition will be very dangerous.
Cornelius Sullivan, a professor of biological sciences who has been to Antarctica 25 times, said he considers the trip risky.
“It’s an unforgiving environment,” Sullivan said. “People die there.”
But with a total of 10 expeditions to Antarctica between them, Byrd and Donnellan are also well aware of what is in store for them.
The expedition is slated for December of 2010.