31 January, 1999
Saturday, January 30th and Sunday 31st, 1999, South Pole Station
What a weekend this was. The temperatures were down to - 30 C , with 7 knots of wind ( with wind chills - 40C).
During the day I did my laundry, caught up with work in the lab. And received a good lesson from Joel in running the DOBSON, the instrument which measures total ozone. Joel and I worked late at ARO's .
The night was long because the arrival time was delayed several times from 2 am to 5 am. I did not want to miss this important job, so I stayed up all night and finally caught up answering student's letters.
The German plane arrived at 5:15 a.m. and the emergency team (members of the community, Joel was one of them) reported to 'Com', the communication office by 5 am. In the mean time I found out what happened in the past 48 hours and why the ill person was brought to the South Pole. This is such a perfect example of what the Antarctic Treaty is all about: international cooperation without doubts.
The researcher who had a stroke was Indian and was at that time on a Norwegian charter research vessel off the coast of Antarctica, which is near the South American coast, close to the Indian station, Dakshin Gangotri, in the Antarctic. The boat had a helicopter and the researcher was brought to the South African Station, Sanae. From there he was brought with a smaller plane to the German station, Neumayer. The weather was too bad to go across the ocean to South America or South Africa. In addition, a large plane was required for a trip like that which was not available. There was no other way but to go South. McMurdo also agreed that one of their planes (herc) would bring the person to New Zealand. The time was running fast and help was so far away. The German plane needed to land at the British station, Halley, to get more fuel. From there they came non-stop to the South Pole. They were in the air for 12 hours with only a short stop at the British Station. Their multiple delay was due to the late arrival of the South African plane.
We all were worried about the man. When the plane arrived, we followed Mike's, Instruction. I was asked to approach the plane with him as soon as the plane was ready to be approached. Everybody had 'walkie- talkies' to receive orders quickly and everybody knew exactly what there job was. One group prepared - together with the doctor the sled and carrier which was to bring the sick man to our medical station. Another group was ready to carry the man out of the plane. During that time I stand by - out of the way- and talked to the pilots if they needed any help. Their English was good, however, they often said something in German, which I was glad to translate. The patient was carried carefully out of the plane into our station. According to the doctor, he was doing well, however, the trip to New Zealand needed to continue as soon as possible. We were waiting for a Herc (LC 130) to arrive to bring him to McMurdo and then to New Zealand into a hospital. However, the plane in McMurdo could not leave because of bad weather. In the meantime he was well taken care of in our medical station and everybody did his or her best.
In the mean time, the German plane needed attention as well because of the cold weather. Usually the planes are not shut down, unless
they stay over night because of bad weather. When they are shut down, like any other engine here at the South Pole an electrical heating line has to be connected to their engine. This plane was turned off and did not start to be put into a parking area. So it stayed on the main 'taxi way', the area just in front of our station until they would leave at midnight. There was enough space for the Herc to pass by.
We were all happy that the patient was well enough to talk. An Indian researcher from our station was asked to talk to him and helped to translate. We were exhausted, but also happy that all went well so far. We also realized that serious medical help is truly far away … that this is the Antarctic after all.
Because it was Sunday the supporting staff had the day off and brunch was not until 10:30a.m. However, many people got up, including our cook, Donna, to prepare breakfast for the crew. They were still busy taken care of the plane and we finally ate around 8:30 a.m. After that we brought them ( two pilots, Stefan and Helmut, Henning the mechanic, and Eberhard, the doctor and station manager) to their quarters. 3 of them wanted to see some of the station before they would sleep. So I offered my help and it was fun showing them "my" station.
I went to sleep around noon…. And met all of them for dinner and showed them together with other German scientists the telescopes at MAPO. They checked the weather at the German station and left at midnight. I was in bed by 1:30 p.m. I felt like I was part of a very important task here in the Antarctic. Let's hope that all will go well for the patient which was picked up that evening at 7pm to be brought to McMurdo.
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