Travel Log: December 18th, 1997

Picture of the Day
Janice and other passengers
play in the snow after their
emergency landing.

DECEMBER 18th, 1997

Janice enjoyed an especially adventurous trip to McMurdo Station this morning. Near the end of her flight from the South Pole to McMurdo Station there was a "white out" due to fog surrounding the airport at McMurdo. The pilots executed an emergency landing in a nearby field. No damage was done to the plane and no passengers were injured. After the landing the passengers debarked and played in the snow for two hours while waiting for the rescue team to arrive. The tale is recounted in Janice's own words below. Randy is still at the South Pole for at least another two days.

See also Travel Tales below!

Date: 18 Dec 97
Location: McMurdo Station
Weather: white out conditions
Temperature: -1oC
Wind Chill: -20oC
Wind Speed: 30 mph

Go on to the
next day...

Dec 18th Travel Tales

Janice VanCleave: I am at McMurdo station, which is on the coast of Antarctica (New Zealand side). My flight to McMurdo was not the norm. While few things seem normal here, this was bizarre. The flight from the Pole was routine until we neared McMurdo. The air base near McMurdo, called Willy Field, was having a white out (so foggy that visibility is near zero). All other air bases in the area were also having a white out. We did not have enough fuel to return to the Pole so our only option was to make an emergency landing in an area as near Willy Field as possible. It wasn't an unknown area and the crew had practiced making this type of landing in this area, but this was the first time they had actually done it for real. The 6 passengers on the plane, including myself, knew that we were landing away from the air field, but it wasn't clear that it was considered an emergency landing. Since the pilots and navigator could not see the ground, they landed the plane using instruments only. The navigator said that because of the density of the snow, his instruments said the plane was 10 feet off the ground when it actually touched down. I've had worse landings in commercial aircraft. It was not until we touched down that our situation became clear. The pilot tried to taxi us to the air base, but the snow was so new that it was too soft for the heavy plane to move through. We got stuck in the snow. But we were informed immediately that there was nothing to be concerned about, an emergency search and rescue team was on its way. With the use of a GPS, an instrument used to identify one's location our position was known. The vehicle used to come our rescue is called a Haglund. It has tracks like a tank. It took 2 hours for the emergency crew to arrive. During that time we played in the snow and generally had a good time. Some of the crew used shovels to dig the snow away from skis so the plane could taxi back after the fog lifted. The flight had been 3 1/2 hours and now there would be a 2 hour wait plus another 2 hours before reaching McMurdo. While there was no problem with the men urinating outside, it was a bit of a problem for me, the only woman on the plane. The crew was most accomodating and prepared the toilet that was available on the plane. The only problem is that cargo blocked the passage way from the passener end of the plane. The only entrance was throught the back door of the plane and there were no stairs. To get into this door, one crewman on the ground put his hands together and made a step and another crewman inside the plane caught my hand and pulled me up. Between the two, I was lifted and pulled into the plane. I ended up sitting on the floor and with all the cargo and machinery on the floor it was difficult to get on my feet. Now the problem was to climb over the cargo to the toilet. I tried taking one boot off so that I was more agile, but the floor was too cold. The bottom line is that one can figure out a way when the need is great enough. With the potty problem solved, I now had to figure a way of getting out of the plane. By sitting down I was able to jump out of the plane with the support of a crewman. I am here to say that the crew on this air craft was not only skilled in their job, but very courteous to all of us.

The polar gear that we had on made us warm enough to enjoy playing in the snow. I was colder during the flight than on the ground. While the clothing keeps me warm, the boots make me clumsier than usual. I fell twice inside the plane. I took a swan dive as I entered the plane. The toe of my boot caught on a cargo rail and down I went. The floor has many cargo rails to move heavy cargo on. Thankfully no one was on the plane to see me spread across the floor. One would think doing that once would be lesson enough, but a second fall certainly made me more cautious about moving around inside the plane. I am a bit bruised and have a few sore spots, but no permanent damage was done.

Yea!! The emergency search and rescue team arrived and off we went. Riding in the Haglund was not very comfortable, but it was our safe ride home. We started our journey at 11:30 pm on Dec. 17 and now it was 6:00 am. Dec. 18. I was so tired that being cramped with 12 others in the vehicle and the bumpy ride did not stopped me from going to sleep. Upon arrival at Willy Base, we boarded a van for another ride of about 45 min. At last we arrived at McMurdo and I was shocked at how warm -01 degrees Celcius (30 degrees F) felt having just come from the sub zero temperatures at the Pole.

My flight to Christchurch originally was to be Friday, Dec. 19, but that has been cancelled. I am now scheduled to leave Sat. Dec. 20. I've learned that things can change at a moments notice here. Weather is always a factor. The weather along the coast of Antarctica is always unpredictable. Hopefully it will be great and I can get on to Christchurch on Sat. I plan to enjoy my stay here and learn as much as possible about the station. It is very beautifly with the mountains surrounding the area. The actual station looks like a mining town with all the dark dirt and mud around. McMurdo is refered to as Mud Town because the dark volcanic ash that the land is made of turns to mud in the melting snow. The snow is very different here than at pole. It is wetter and softer. Some of the drier snow on the frozen McMurdo Sound is blown toward land by the wind. Being pelted by these snow particles is like being in a dust storm. The difference being that the particles quickly melt leaving one clean.

Sites in McMurdo include the Greenhouse- What an oasis in this land of ice and snow. The warmth and humidity of the building felt comforting. It is a place where some visit to relax. It is a small building, but a hamock is readily available for anyone that wants to just hang out among the greenery. A radio is available for those that require this stimulation. My personal preference was the be bathed in the quietness of the environment. Upon enterting the building, the first thing that I saw were vines with lush green leaves and large voluptuous cucumbers. The plants are grown by hydroponics. A sign on the tomatoes indicated that tobaco cases tomatoe plants to be succeptible to Black Spot disease. Thus, people that smoke are to wash their hands before touching the tomato plants. Wow! What a great science project this could be. Other plants that I saw growing were, beans, peas, dill, basil, lettuce, rubarb, jalepeno and bell peppers. The greenhouse provides the fresh vegetables during the winter and supliments the fresh vegetable supply when more people are at the station during the summer. The Antarctic treaty between the various countries restricts the growth of plants except those used for food. I did suggest that there are many edible flowers. Maybe in the future this greenhouse will have beautiful flowers. The yellow cucumber flowers were more beautiful that I had ever seen.

I am in a spacious room with computers here with large windows that look out on McMurdo Sound. Mountains are everywhere. I think all of the mountains are volcanoes. I'll check on that. Mt Erebus is the only active volcano on Anarctica and it is here on Ross Island where McMurdo is. I wouldn't mind seeing a small volcanic eruption as long as everyone was unharmded. How about a little smoke out its top. I've heard that this happens so maybe I'll see it.