A Satellite Phone Update – from the bottom of the earth

Sue surprised us this morning with a phone call from Expedition Base on Holtanna Glacier Antarctica.  A number of us had met for coffee and scones at the Coffee Traders downtown Whitefish. Technological achievements today are mind-boggling. We could converse as if she was next door. Sue sounded bright, cheery and warm!

Job Update

Their base camp is adjacent to the disabled DC3-Turbo aircraft, 106 miles inland from the coastal base of Novo. Their job is to extract, repair and ready the plane for flight to ferry it off the glacier to a site where additional repairs can be done. The twelve people in her group are earning their wages. The challenge is to dig out the large half buried aircraft after a winter of icy winds and snow following the mishap in December 2012.

Snow and ice encasement around the plane is so hard chain saws must be used to cut through the ice pack. Yesterday, they were able to expose the damaged cockpit area and approach the ice-encased engine. There heat from the engine at the time of the crash caused initial snow melt and solidified around area making removal very difficult.

They tunneled about 8 feet beneath the plane yesterday. After exposing the wings, the survey revealed damage in the mid-section of both wings that will require straightening. Three sheet metal experts are crew members. Everyone works together to dig out the plane. Sue said she is gaining muscle and endurance with each day that passes.

The three women on the crew have varied skills. The youngest is a 22 year old avionics electronics specialist. With the front of the airplane exposed, she can now begin working in the cockpit on the panel and damaged electronics. Another woman on the crew is an ice core driller, also from Whitefish, who happens to be a darn good cook and is in charge of feeding the group. Arriving two weeks ahead of the group, she prepared many meals in advance of their arrival. Sue continues to deal with minor medical problems similar to those mentioned yesterday and is digging and hauling snow and ice away from the aircraft.

The Comforts of Home

Last night, Lou served: beef tenderloin, carrots and raspberry cobbler. Many meals are hearty stews. No one is complaining about the food. Today they will receive an airfreight delivery of 2 tons of aircraft parts, other supplies and food.

Sleeping is in comfortable tents warmed via jet-fueled heaters. The temperature when she called was 34 degrees F. with 20 knot winds. She said most days are warmer and have been windless.

Yesterday they constructed a shower — yes an outdoor shower surrounded by a wind-break sheet. At least they have a shower. After working so hard, they need showers but have to get up the courage to strip under those conditions. At least they can recover and warm up inside their cozy tents.

As you might expect, Sue brought her skis – and a new kite to kite-ski. To avoid the risk of skiing into a crevasse, on their first excursion, Sue and Lou (the cook) skied along the aircraft landing area. The snow is packed and windblown. She said they had a great time and had the energy to ski even after all the work!

 If there is an urgent need to contact Sue (emergency) you can contact me through the blog and I can get a message to her.

 Until next time.  Take care and stay warm.


About bettykuffel

Author and retired medical doctor with broad interests in writing, flying, photography and outdoor life. She has Indie published 7 books, fiction & non-fiction, all available on Amazon. Writing projects include: multiple books of fiction: a medical thriller series, a psychological thriller set in 1960 co-authored with her sister Bev, and others in process. Dr. Kuffel lives in MT with husband Tom, two dogs and neighborhood deer.
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