Oh wow…. yesterday was a ‘day from hell’ so to speak. The warmer temps (mid to upper 30’s) are wreaking havoc on our snow roads and the transition area between the almost frozen ocean, and Ross Ice shelf!!! I have high hopes of seeing a LOT of open ocean this year! The pressure ridges – where we WALKED are opening up now, too. The Ice Pier area had to be broken or crushed last year by the Oden. There is quite a bit of open water already around it and the Breaker is not due for another 2-3 weeks. Come on penguins and seals!!! As for driving here, we are down to being able to only use the Delta’s and Ivan for the snow roads.
Back to yesterday morning. I had the 0630 run in a Delta (Tina Marie) out to Willie Field. I did not make it through the potholes. I had 5 pax who then ABANDONED me to walk the 7 miles to work! (Okay, they actually radio’d out to WF and asked for transportation from their flight crew, who met them along the way.) Meanwhile I sat in 1/2 tire deep water and waited for “FLEET OPS” to send someone to pull me out.
It was a beautiful, sunny day. Erebus was visible; “JoJo Falls” were in full force down the side of the cliff, and I sat alone in Antarctica absorbing it all. It was such a peaceful feeling until – – – CREAK, the right side of my Delta SINKS a little more! “Uh oh“. I started feeling like the Tower of Pisa. I had my driver’s side door open. (Good escape plan. I also kept my eye on the escape hatch in the roof, however I assumed if I tipped over – this might not be a good way out.) I held VERY STILL. In the 1&1/2 hours it took for the ‘tow truck’ to arrive, I sank a little more every 10 minutes! My hero was a Cargo Delta with a GAS tank on the cargo bed!!! Great. He ties onto my rear and says “when the chain tightens, hit the gas but try not to smash into the back of me.” (Wise man) It took about 4 attempts before my Delta finally came up out of the water!!!! WOO HOOOOOOOOOO!!!
After lunch I was scheduled to work the South African Air (SAFAIR) plane at Pegasus. Right BEFORE lunch Tina Marie died. She was on another run to Willie Field and simply had had enough for one day. (She is also the one who ‘dropped her reverse’ once on a trip out to Cape Evans and the Ice Cave!) She had to be towed all the way to McMurdo with her wheels locked up. There is an entire new story on her adventure back – but I won’t bore you with details yet. At that same time, Ivan died on the Scott Base Hill. (Let’s refresh our memory on vehicles. Shuttles has 3 deltas and 1 Ivan. Well, HAD!)
Our poor supervisor was banging her head against the wall to figure out how to continue getting our air crews out to planes and pax in and out!!! It was finally decided to “stage” an Airporter, (These are WORTHLESS in the snow.) out at Pegasus to at least get pax to and from the planes there. Meaning, we could then have a vehicle drive to the plane – retrieve – and bring to the pax terminal out at Pegasus. Only one small problem. There is no way an Airporter can drive through the transition holes! She called FLEET OPS and requested they be on standby to tug it through. (BRILLIANT!) Another driver took that job. I was following behind in IVAN with pax to take TO the SAFAIR plane. Driving to Pegasus now takes an hour and 20 minutes. The road at noon was pretty good. When I returned about 3 hours later, it had fallen apart with several soft – sinking areas!!
At Pegasus, I dropped my outgoing pax at the Pax Terminal, and switched vehicles with the other driver. When the plane landed, I took the Airporter out to the plane, retrieved the pax and brought them to Ivan. Off to McMurdo they went! I had to wait until the plane was unloaded of cargo (Yippee- my Christmas packages might be on this!!!) and then REloaded with new cargo before the crew called for the pax. I had to make 2 trips as I had more outgoing pax than the Airporter could hold. Once they were all safely on board, I found a ‘spot’ at the airfield to plug the Airporter in and shut it down. Hmmmm….now how to get back to McMurdo for me? CARGO DELTA! These critters are the man size version of our “Dainty” Shuttle Deltas. (If we shuttle drivers had this much power, we wouldn’t get stuck!) Luckily there was room in one for me. It was an enjoyable return ride as we listened to Fleet Ops pull yet another vehicle from the TRANSITION!
The old timers talk of the year that pax and workers had to be helo’d to Willy Field and Pegasus. Maybe that will happen again this year! How fun would it be for me to FLY out to drive the crew to their planes!!!!
Yes, it’s a harsh continent – but we love it!