top of page

Explorers, or Boys Messing About?

Helicopter Rescue

Below is a great example of how to use the SOAPSTone technique effectively in your passage analysis


Speaker:  The speaker here is a journalist writing for a newspaper - they therefore are attempting to entertain as well as to inform.  This can be seen in the informality of the title ‘messing about’, and the reference to the ‘taxpayer’ who has to pay for the rescue bill, immediately turning an audience against the ‘boys’ in the headline.  The headline subtly ridicules the boys and makes them seem childish, showing that this is not impartial journalism. ‘Plucked’ in the byline also makes the explorers look particularly weak and helples, as well as giving us more context about the scenario.

Occasion:  Two young men have had to be rescued after their helicopter crashed into the sea in Antarctica.  

Audience:  Broad audience perhaps, as seen from the lack of low-frequency (uncommon) vocabulary.

Purpose:  To inform us of the incident, as well as of the writer’s unsympathetic view of the explorers.

Subject:  The explorers.

Tone:  Generally semi-formal, with elements of conversationality and colloquialism.  Also very scathing of the explorers, through numerous devices.





How the scene is set

  • ‘Their last expedition ended in farce’ immediately gives us the impression that this is no a one-off event for the explorers; but one of a series of embarrassments.  ‘Farce’ is an extremely strong was of describing the incident, showing the writer emphatically persuading the audience about the explorer’s idiocy, right from the beginning.  ‘Military planes’ which were almost sent after them makes them look even more stupid, and shows the peril which they were in at the time, and which they clearly haven’t learnt from.

  • ‘Yesterday’ locates the subject of the article in time, allowing the reader to feel they understand the incident more, as well as providing an immediate transition.  

  • ‘Almost led to tragedy’ shows the perilous nature of their adventure - tragedy was only avoided by more skilled people coming to help - a fact reinforced by the dramatic verb ‘plunged’.  

  • Equally ‘plucked’ makes the explorers seem extremely helpless in the ‘icy waters’, which clarifies the immediate danger they were in.  ‘A nine-hour rescue’ shows just how arduous it was to rescue the explorers, making an audience annoyed on behalf of the rescuers. Moreover, the fact that ‘Mr Brooks contacted his wife’ for help makes him seem a little pathetic, as he clearly needs experienced professionals to help.  Our tricolon of ‘Royal Navy, the RAF and British Coastguard’ shows just many people were needed to come and rescue them, thus making the explorers seem even more ridiculous for attempting their feat.

  • ‘Resentment in some quarters’ seems euphemistic, actually suggesting to the readers that they themselves should feel resentful about what has happened.   The fact that ‘taxpayers of Britain and Chile suffered tens of thousands of pounds’ shows that the audience themselves have probably suffered, an extremely strong verb, due to these reckless actions.

  • ‘Experts’ then structurally moves from the opinions of the writer to the opinions of experts who will reinforce his opinion, with ‘questioned the wisdom’ being again politely euphemistic for the fact that they thought this was extremely foolish.  Moreover, the fact that this is extended by the helicopter having only ‘a single engine’ uses technical information to make their equipment seem lacking in a ‘hostile environment.’

  • ‘There was also confusion about what exactly the men were trying to achieve’ seems extremely sarcastic and implies that they were ( as Ms Vestey described them) simply ‘boys messing around with a helicopter’.  The word ‘boys’ is extremely patronizing, making the men seem immature and childish.

  • ‘Trusty helicopter’ also seems ironic, put in quotation marks to emphasize how unreliable it actually was.


Dramatic description

  • The writer then moves us from the aftermath and overview of the incident to a depiction of what happened, starting with ‘The drama began at around 1am British time’, using emphatic language and specific detail to place the reader on the scene.   

  • ‘42, and 40-year-old Mr Smith, also known as Q’ makes the men seem old enough to know better, and further suggests that Smith is immature himself to have a nickname based of on a fictional James Bond character.  Use of specific detail here (‘about 36 miles off Smith Island’) allows the reader to picture what has happened, as well as making the writer seem well-informed.

  • ‘Scrambled into their life-raft’ shows the anxiety and lack of courage of the explorers, after the accident.   This is furthered when Mr Brooks has to call his wife to ask her to ‘call the emergency people’, the latter phrase suggesting he didn’t even bring their number, or know who to contact in case of emergency.  

  • ‘Mr Brooks’ Breitling emergency watch, a wedding present’ suggests that his wife knew that he would not take care of himself, and so has to protect him from himself - he was not even proactive in sending out ‘distress-signals’, was under-equipped and using non-professional equipment.

  • The writer continues to use transitional paragraphs to allow the reader to understand the chain of events which led to the eventual rescue by ‘The Royal Navy’s ice patrol ship, HMS Endurance.’  The name of the ship and the fact that it has such great responsibility ‘surveying uncharted waters’ again implies the waste of resources being used on these men.

  • The events are made to sound more dramatic then by the efforts of the helicopters to rescue the men, one being ‘driven back because of poor visibility’, while the second arrived only after ‘the men were picked up by a Chilean naval vessel’.  The entire operation, we may think, sounds like a shambles which was completely unnecessary in the first place. As ‘one Antarctic explorer told Mr Brooks’ wife it was “nothing short of a miracle” that they had survived, the audience is led to feel relieved for the explorers, ad to fully appreciate the peril they were in.  Nonetheless, this does not detract from our scorn for them and their poorly thought out ‘adventure’.

Men’s credentials

  • The writer then transitions to describe the men themselves, juxtaposing ‘experienced adventurers’ with ‘a property developer from London’, the urban office job making us doubt his real credentials.   Yet the list of his accomplishments ‘He has trekked solo to Everest base camp [...] He is also a qualified mechanic and pilot’ make his current failure seem even more foolish. It is also significant that these accomplishments are hidden in the middle of the passage, so that the reader doesn’t focus on them too much, instead leaving us with the impression of the men’s inexperience.

  • ‘Mr Smith, also from London, claims to have been flying since the age of five’, uses the word ‘claims’ to undermine the evidence that Smith is a capable pilot, implying that the writer doubts whether what he says is actually the case.  

  • ‘Despite their experience’ implies that regardless of their prior adventures, neither of the explorers learnt from these things, and have also ‘hit the headlines for the wrong reasons’ before, negating the more positive evidence from the previous paragraphs.

  • A solid paragraph about Brooks and another explorer Stratford attempting to cross the Bering Strait is quickly followed by a ‘But’, then revealing that ‘they were forced to call a halt’ after the Russians threatened to forcibly remove them if they crossed the border.   Once again, they showed little foresight. Moreover, this is a good example of cohesion, connecting to the incident at the start of the article.

  • The men’s stupidity is enhanced even more, as ‘Ironically, one of the aims of the expedition, for which Mr Smith provided air backup, was to demonstrate how good relations between east and west had become’.  In fact, they succeeded in proving the exact opposite.


Ending vs opening

  • At its end, the article transitions back to the expedition in question, for which the rescue had to be staged, and now turns to experts who ‘questioned’ the ‘wisdom’ of the expedition, reinforcing the writer’s point of view.  Quotation also extends this use of evidence, giving the reader the impression that they are being given an expert’s own personal opinion, rather than one carefully selected by the writer.

  • Where the writer tells us that ‘The flying conditions had been excellent’, this suggests that the crash must have been incompetence on the part of the explorers, rather than simply bad luck.

  • The article concludes by re-stating consequences from the title - ‘The Ministry of Defence said the taxpayer would pick up the bill’, and it is ‘“highly unlikely” that it would recover any of the money’, again making the reader feel that they (like all taxpayers) will have suffered due to the stupidity of these men.  ‘As was normal in rescues’ in again sandwiched between two pieces decrying the men’s selfishness and the money they cost, once more prompting the reader to ignore the fact that this is a routine expense.

  • Finally, the writer tells us ‘they have been checked and appear to be well’, implicitly suggesting they were not in such great peril after all, allowing the reader to feel less sympathetic for them.  The consequence of their actions ‘they’ll probably have their bottoms kicked and be sent home the long waymakes the men sound like naughty children, but also seems too mild a response for having wasted so much of the country’s money.  

bottom of page