- The Washington Times - Friday, April 19, 2002

OSLO Thor Heyerdahl, the Norwegian adventurer who crossed the Pacific on a balsa-log raft and detailed his harrowing 101-day voyage in the book "Kon-Tiki," died yesterday. He was 87.

Mr. Heyerdahl stopped taking food, water or medication in early April after being diagnosed with a terminal brain tumor.

Experts scoffed at Mr. Heyerdahl when he set off to cross the Pacific aboard a balsa raft in 1947, saying it would get waterlogged and sink within days.

After 101 days and 4,900 miles, he proved them wrong by reaching Polynesia from Peru in a bid to prove his theories of human migration.

His later expeditions included voyages aboard the reed rafts Ra, Ra II and Tigris. His wide-ranging archaeological studies were often controversial and challenged accepted views.

Relatives said he died in his sleep at a hospital near Colla Michari, Italy, where he was spending the Easter holiday, Thor Heyerdahl Jr. said.

Though he lived and worked abroad for decades, Mr. Heyerdahl was a national hero in his homeland, where one newspaper crowned him Norwegian of the Century in a millennium reader poll. He is survived by his third wife, four of his five children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Before Mr. Heyerdahl made his voyage on the Kon-Tiki, he had to overcome a major obstacle: He was deathly afraid of water. He had nearly drowned twice as a child in Larvik, Norway, and confronted his fear only at age 22, when he fell into a raging river in Tahiti and swam to safety.

His Kon-Tiki trip was intended to support his theory that the South Sea Islands were settled by explorers from pre-Incan South America. The prevailing theory is that Polynesia was settled from Southeast Asia.

Mr. Heyerdahl conceived his theory during a year spent on the Pacific island of Fatu Hiva in the Marquesas. He noticed that stone figures of the Polynesian chief-god Tiki in the jungle were "remarkably like the monoliths left by extinct civilizations in South America."

His colorfully written book about the voyage and his theories was published in more than 60 countries and sold more than 25 million copies.

In 1969, he attempted to sail from Morocco to Barbados aboard the Ra, a boat made of papyrus reeds like those in ancient Egyptian wall drawings. But he hadn't followed the drawings closely and the boat broke up.

A year later he tried again, aboard the Ra II, which was held together by ropes as shown in the wall drawings. This time he succeeded, making the 3,200-mile crossing in 55 days.

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