16 October, 1999
I'm here! I made it! I'm on the frozen continent (Or, at least on an island off the coast of the frozen continent.)! As I type this, I am sitting in the Crary Science and Engineering Center at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. This is cool! Actually the temperature when we landed was 3 degrees Fahrenheit. The weather was bright and sunny and there was a brisk wind. A beautiful day. But let me start from the beginning. We arrived at the CDC in Christchurch for our second attempt at an ice flight at 7:00PM NZDT. Check-in went fast because all our bags were still on the plane from yesterday. We were taken to the tarmac and we loaded on a C141 Starlifter aircraft. By the way, previously I incorrectly identified the group operating our aircraft. The flight is run by the 62/446 Air Wing of the Air Force Air Mobility Command (AMC) out of McChord AFB in Washington. The plane left Christchurch at 8:45NZDT. A C141 aircraft is designed to haul cargo, not for the comfort of passengers and it showed. We were seated in mesh seats on either side of the aircraft and down the middle. We were shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee with the passenger around us. There were about 100 of us on the flight. We were required to wear our ECW gear so it was quite bulky and warm. (See picture below.) We had to wear earplugs during the entire flight because of the engine noise. During the flight we could stand up but is was still very crowded. Many people stood on their seats. Others read, slept or ate some of the bag lunch they provided us. I watched the movie Casablanca. I had a DVD of the film and I got to watch most of it before my batteries went low.
As I said you couldn't move around much. There was a toilet in the front of the plane for the women but the men on the plane had to make do with a large "jerry can" in the back. The entire cargo/passenger area only had a total of six windows so there wasn't much of an opportunity to look outside. When we got over the sea ice, several of us climbed over other people and the seats to get a look. Needless to say, we were all relieved when the Cargo Master informed us that we were on our descent into McMurdo. As we approached, they forced cold air into the cabin to get us used to what would great us when we stepped outside. Like I said, it was a sunny, cold windy day. Not unlike a typical January day in Wisconsin. We stepped out onto a sea-ice runway. Early in the season, they can use the sea-ice to land wheel aircraft like the C141. Later, they will rely on the ski equipped C130 Hercules aircraft to haul people and cargo.
Well, we hardly got time to take two breaths of the cold Antarctic air and they had us on shuttle buses into McMurdo. After a short orientation we were assigned a room and went to eat. I have to admit that I'm a bit tired after this rather hectic day. I will try to give you a better sense of what is like around McMurdo tomorrow. Until then, think if me "on the ice".
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