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British explorer Henry Worsley dies on solo attempt to complete Ernest Shackleton's Antarctic journey

A British explorer attempting the first unassisted solo crossing of Antarctica has died 71 days after setting out and possibly within a week of his goal, his wife said.

Henry Worsley, 55, had been suffering from increasing exhaustion and dehydration during the voyage, posting updates by satellite phone.

Shackleton's legendary journey

Adventurer Tim Jarvis retells the tale of Sir Ernest Shackleton's epic Antarctic survival and rescue mission in 1915. Courtesy of the British Film Institute.

The former army officer was just 48 kilometres from the end of the almost 1600-kilometre trek when he called for help and was airlifted off the ice on Friday.

Worsley died "following complete organ failure" at a clinic in Punta Arenas, Chile, his wife Joanna said in a statement on Monday.

British adventurer Henry Worsley, right, with Britain's Prince William as they hold the British flag in London. Worsley ...
British adventurer Henry Worsley, right, with Britain's Prince William as they hold the British flag in London. Worsley has died after suffering exhaustion and dehydration while attempting to cross the Antarctic alone. Photo: AP

The 55-year-old Worsley covered more than 1450 kilometres in 71 days, pulling supplies on a sled, while attempting to complete Sir Ernest Shackleton's unfinished South Pole expedition of a century ago.

Worsley's wife Joanna said the expedition had raised more than £100,000 ($203,770) for wounded troops.

Prince William, patron of the expedition, said he and brother Prince Harry had lost a friend.

"This is just the best place on Earth right now," Worsley said on the first day of the trip in November.

Former army officer Henry Worsley on the Korridoren glacier in Milne Land, Greenland in 2008.
Former army officer Henry Worsley on the Korridoren glacier in Milne Land, Greenland in 2008.  Photo: AP

Worsley, a former British military officer, pulled his own sled with food and supplies in an attempt to complete the projected route of famed adventurer Shackleton a century ago.

Shackleton's ship became trapped in the ice off Antarctica in January 1915, leading to an epic rescue that included Shackleton and five others sailing a small boat 1287 kilometres to reach help on South Georgia Island.

Henry Worsley at an airport in England in 2012.
Henry Worsley at an airport in England in 2012. Photo: Steve Parsons

Worsley had expected his journey to take between 75 and 80 days - which would have been the first without assistance from sled dogs or other support such as airdrops.

On Friday, with his voice still strong but tinged with sorrow, he posted an audio message saying he could no longer continue.

"My journey is at an end," he said. "I have run out of time ... the sheer ability to slide one ski in front of the other to travel the distance required to reach my goal."

He sought to raise money for a fund to assist injured and ailing military personnel.

Worsley had noted his fascination with early polar explorers, including Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen, who in 1911 became the first person to reach the South Pole. But Shackleton had a special significance for Worsley, who came across a photo of the failed expedition as a boy.

"That fired my imagination," he told the podcast Inspiring Adventurer.

In the winter of 1915, Shackleton's ship, the Endurance, became trapped in an ice floe in the Weddell Sea. For more than nine months, the 28-person crew stayed aboard the immobilised boat, which was later crushed by the ice and sank.

As their rations dwindled, he brought his men to nearby Elephant Island, then led a group of five of the crew on a trip across open ocean in a tiny lifeboat to seek help for the rest of his stranded men.

Twenty months after their ship was first caught in the ice, the entire crew of the Endurance was rescued. 

"Shackleton and his style of leadership became an important part of my character," Worsley told Inspiring Adventurer.

Washington Post, AAP