Frank Cole

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Frank Cole (1954 – 2000) was an award-winning Canadian documentary filmmaker and avid surfer who became the first North American to cross the Sahara alone on camel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Red Sea, in 1990. This epic odyssey earned Cole a place in the Guinness Book of World Records. His documentary Life Without Death chronicled his experience and won him several prestigious awards as well as being released theatrically in Paris.

Cole was murdered by Tuareg bandits near Timbuktu, Mali, in late October 2000.

Born in Saskatchewan to a New Brunswick father from the diplomatic field, Cole grew up in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Czechoslovakia, Switzerland and South Africa. A well-educated traveller, he studied languages at Carleton University and later 16mm film production at Algonquin College with the legendary documentarian Peter Wintonick. His films include A Documentary, The Mountenays, A Life and Life Without Death.


Obsessed by the death of his grandfather and fear of mortality itself, Cole earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records (French edition) for his 1990 solo crossing of the Sahara Desert from Mauritania to the Red Sea alone on camel.


In 2000, Cole returned to cross the Sahara again; this time his plan was to cross and then return from the Red Sea back to the Atlantic Ocean. In October 2000, he left Timbuktu for Gao on the sand track known as Autoroute Nationale. He arrived in Ber and departed eastwards after speaking with the Malian Gendarmerie under a date tree.

Hours later, Cole met one or two bandits who bludgeoned him to death. Cole fought back but could not overpower the attackers. Cole died at sunset and was tied to a small desert shrub tree for reasons unknown.

His killing included the theft of most of his exposed film recordings and camera gear. The last images of his last trip were filmed in Mauritania and shipped back to his family in Ottawa where they now rest. His camels, bought and tattooed in Mauritania, have never been found.

His remains were cryonically preserved at the Michigan Cryonics Institute in Clinton Township, a suburb of Detroit. Theories surrounding his life and unsolved death still circulate to this day.