|Geoff Sims @ UNSW|
Sunday, 30th December, 2012
Magic carpet ride. (John)
At 0715 we arrived at flight check in, dressed in our finest ECW gear and looking forward to the three-hour flight to the South Pole. To begin with, everything looked good: we crammed ourselves into the shuttle van, barely fitting with all our carry-on bags and parkas, then piled another six people in.
As we bumped along the ice towards the Pegasus airfield, the talk on the two-way radio became increasingly hilarious. Not only was a shuttle van in front of us bogged, but one of the invincible Deltas had also ground to halt. And, sadly, Ivan was in the mechanical shop, busted.
Nevertheless, we battled cheerfully along, listening in to the various towing and rescue scenarios being discussed, the most implausible of which was deployment of the Magic Carpet. Sure enough we got to the point where shuttles could go no further, transferred into a non-bogged Delta, and continued our journey.
Naturally enough we then sat around for an hour or more, mainly playing with our cameras. Somehow during this process I accidentally set my camera into the "take tiny awful pixilated images" mode; sorry about that... As usual, see Geoff's blog for much better pictures!
Eventually it was announced that our flight was ready! The shuttle took us out to the plane - or, more accurately took us towards the plane and got bogged, at which point the driver suggested that we could maybe walk the rest of the way. We did. Meanwhile, a bulldozer arrived and towed the shuttle van away.
Arriving at the Hercules we were a little disappointed to find there was no-one else there. After a brief discussion we decided that flying a Herc was beyond even the combined resources of the U of A and UNSW teams, so there was nothing to do but wait a bit longer. It turns out we were the only passengers, which made us feel quite special. We wandered around taking photos of "our" Herc from all angles, admiring in particular the skis that give the "LC130" such a unique capability.
After a while the flight crew turned up, along with the "fuelies" who spent the next 30 minutes filling up our aircraft with jet fuel. We filled the time by chatting to the pilots (pilots are always interesting to talk to), and watched as things on the airfield continued to fall apart.
As the shuttle vans continued to get bogged as soon as they drove onto the skiway, it became time to break out the Magic Carpet. This consists of two very large flat sheets of rubber, towed behind a CAT. The shuttle drives or is dragged onto the sheets, and away you go, just like magic!
Then, just as I was starting to actually like the Deltas, one of them suffered the ignominy of getting so bogged that it, too, had to be floated away.
Still, this wasn't our problem, as the pilots explained that the last thing to get bogged would be the Herc., a statement that, given the enormous grunt of those four engines, was as eminently plausible as it was reassuring.
Fueled-up, we clambered aboard and made ourselves comfortable - or at least as comfortable as one can ever be on a Herc.
Kat, the loadmaster, told us what we had to be told (mainly where the exits were and how to don the undonable oxygen hood/bottle contraptions), then chatted to us while we waited some more.
Well, time ticked by and there was something dodgy with the plane somewhere, and eventually we ran up against the time limit for the crew, so we all climbed off again.
And waited around a bit more. It seems none of the shuttles, and not even the Deltas, could make it back to McMurdo through the slushy bits. The warm weather of the last few days has had a major effect; it seems incredible that we landed on this same runway in an Airbus just a week ago.
Then, someone had a Good Idea. If the Magic Carpet could rescue a van, it could also rescue that same van full of passengers and we'll all get through the slush! So, two vans climbed aboard the carpet, and in a flash we were away and gliding across the ice. It was quite surreal, but very effective. We got back to McMurdo just in time for dinner.
So while it's disappointing to be back in McMurdo once again, things could be worse. I'm especially disappointed to miss New Years's Eve at the Pole, and watching the new year start in every time zone in the world. Still, there are compensations: tomorrow we'll all go to the annual "Icestock" live music festival, and see in 2013 from McMurdo.
The next two days are no-fly days, so off to the pole on Tuesday (hopefully).
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