Saturday, February 28, 2009

My First Antarctic SAR Mission " This is Not a Drill"

As I write this nearly 18 years later it's crystal clear as if it happened yesterday!

I was wintering McMurdo Station Antarctica as the communication guru for the winter, the Navy was being phased out and the new contractor was ASA or Antarctic Support Associates.
Since I was part of the winter crew they were over staffed during the summer and I was able to spend most of my summer exploring Antarctica as member of the Search and Rescue Team (SAR) or in the MARS shack a small building between Mac Town and Scott Base that was home to the a few HAM radio's that were used to provide Morale calls home (phone patches) and MARSGRAMS a short note 50 words or less that was sent via high frequency packet radio.

It was just before dinner and my pager went off, I had been carrying this since early October and it had only went off once for a SAR drill which I knew about ahead of time. I called called MAC Ops to see if this wa s a drill, it was not a traverse traveling across the Ross Ice Shelf had encounter a crevasse. I sprinted back to town about 1.5 miles and quickly changed clothes and grabbed my SAR gear.

As I made my way across town to Mac Ops, I saw other members of the SAR team funneling into building 165. Mary Ann Waters a Kiwi from Scott Base was the summer SAR team leader along with Brooks Montgomery an OAE and lead outdoor survival instructor, his job was to keep the beakers (scientist alive while out in the field) Brooks was from Salmon Idaho.

After a quick briefing on situation we quickly ran down the hill to the helo pad and began to load our gear on a bright orange Huey-N helicopter flown by VXE6 a Naval squadron based out of Point Mugu CA, they also flew the LC-130 Ski equipped cargo planes that ferry passengers to and from field camps as well as taxi service to the South Pole.

Upon arriving we quickly departed the Helo the SAR team led by Mary Ann Waters and Brooks Montgomery quickly began to assess the situation, the first task was to secure a few dead man anchors so that we could rope up and approach the crevasse. We quickly found out that the entire area was honey combed with holes, while setting the anchors a hole opened up between Brooks and I, so much for a quick rescue.

Once the anchors were set Mary Ann went over the edge and made here way down around the sled loaded with seismic explosives down 72 feet to the D8 Bull Dozer that housed 3 of of the traverse crew, I just sent an email to Brooks to see if he remembered all of their names, I know that one was Q our explosives expert.

It took almost 3 hours to safely retrieve the very lucky occupants of the D8, while no photo’s were taken during the actual rescue the following photos were taken on Friday after Thanksgiving as we recovered the dynamite and sled, the D8 like so many others has become part of Antarctic history.

The Legendary Hover Craft, while it was a great idea it always seemed to be broken.

A look at what portion of the sled is still above ground

As we start to unload the sled

A shot of the D8 In its final resting place

Another shot of the Crevasse while removing the sled.

Another shot of the Crevasse, not something you want to drive over in a D8 with a bunch of seismic explosives ;-)

And finally after recovering all of the dynamite from the crevasse, we just realized well now we have to load it on the sled again.


Jackson Pollock said...

Nice story, thanks for sharing

GP said...

10,000 years from now the D8 will be uncovered by aliens visiting this planet and everything they learn about the human race will be traced back to your DNA Jeff. It will make for an interesting galactic legacy.

Cora Bullock said...

Who would have thought that a pager can reach these places? Hehehehe. This looks like a tough job. Staying in this kind of weather is no joke. I'm glad you guys made it safely.