Antarctic Medevac Flight 2013

April 29, 2013  •  Leave a Comment
In the few months before coming down to AntarcticaI was told by a surprising amount of people to throw all my logic out the window before I got here.  “Nothing there makes any sense,” they told me. I am still surprised every single day about how nothing at all makes sense, but somehow things still work.  Many of us joke about make sure we choose the most illogical solution to any problem just so we can stay with the status quo of the station.   Many of the people that are down here or have ever been down here has this same feeling or at least something close to it, but nothing every changes. Little that happens here makes any sense and I don’t understand why.  

Last week we had a medevac flight come down to evacuate a worker who needed further medical care.  It wasn’t that our medical staff couldn’t handle this person’s condition (they do amazing with the few resources they have); this person needed more advanced long-term care than could be provided here.  The United States Antarctic Program (USAP) has proven again, as it has in the past, that if something really is wrong they will get you out of here. 

This was by no means a good thing.  We’d be losing a valuable member of our already small community. It also meant thousands of man-hours of work to get the runway cleared of snow and get equipment up out of the cold and running to support a flight.  Most of this was done in the extreme cold and limited daylight of the winter.

It was also an opportunity for USAP to correct a few mistakes it had made and to maybe even get a little extra cargo down since major cargo flights won’t start until mid-october.

Instead an empty C-17 was sent to New Zealand from the US.  It was then loaded with a bag of mail, a few (but not all) of the CAT equipment parts that were needed, and some ducting and a secret box of fresh food for New Zealand’s Scott Base.  None of the much-needed medical supplies or fresh food for the Americans was brought down.  This 800-pound pallet was all that was shipped down-leaving 90,000lbs of unused cargo weight.  I also fully understand that the whole point of this flight was to evacuate someone and they wanted the plane on the ground for as little time as possible.  

The plane had more cargo going back to New Zealandthan it did coming down here.   Besides the person that the medevac was for we lost four additional people—this included one third of the firefighters.  McMurdo now with its 139 people and 100+ buildings only has four firefighters for the next 4-5 months.  Rumor has it that two replacement firefighters were in LA about to board a plane to come down here when they got a call to go home because the C-17 was coming down a day earlier than planned.  Imagine quitting your job, packing and getting all the required medical checks in a matter of days to rush down to Antarctica two days before the last sunset.  Then being told right before you board a plane to go home. 

I won’t rant anymore because I don’t want it to overshadow what the people of McMurdo did to make this flight happen and to save a life.

By this point, much of the mechanical equipment and vehicles have been put to sleep for the winter.  This mean all the airfield fire trucks, fuel equipment, runway lights and all the other strange machines that it takes for a plane to land here had to be brought back to the land of living for this flight.  Untold hard and painful hours were spent out at the runway digging out the fuel pits and plowing snow off the ice runway.  I had a relative small and easy job in this process (simply bring supplies over to the clinic when they were running low on items) so I have a huge amount of respect for everyone who put in more countless hours in this. 

It is pretty amazing what people will do for another person.  For a few days many people didn't even know who they were building the runway for.  Things like this make me proud to be a part of this community.

Things are slowing back to normal now with the population now at 139.


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