Friday, March 25, 2016

68 - High highs and very low lows

Hello friends

well this one is going to be a difficult one to write in some ways but before I get to the difficult bit ill fill you in on all that happened before it. So in continuation on from last week the ship arrived 13th November 2015 after a particularly smooth voyage. Actually the smoothest by far, spent many days on deck soaking up as for sure I though we would cop it bad as we had it so good.

We were followed by a Black-browed Albatross for a fair while and as you can see the water was glassy smooth and VERY unusual for the Southern Ocean. Want to hear something well funny, as majestic as the Black-browed look have a listen to them HERE.

Pic Michael Goldstein.
Anyway resupply is always a busy time in getting everything in and into their positions for the projects along with everything that needs to go home or RTA (return to australia). This year there was high priority for the science to be done during resupply due to there limited time before the seance broke out.

The sea ice guys had a team of 8-10 working on a couple different things but the one I was involved with was the ROV. A little more about the team that was here CLICK HERE   and Klaus has a cool little video showing a little better what research they were doing if you go HERE........and even did a blog while they were here and you can see that by CLICKING HERE along with a icy news article HERE.

If you look in some of the pics you'll see the Skid Steer bob cat drilling the holes yep thats me! This is what it looked like from where I was sitting....

Pic Michael Goldstein
 After drilling 3 x 1.2m holes it was then large enough for the ROV to go in and from the control station taking 2 people to drive. Well one to say how deep, direction and the other to drive.

Pic Michael Goldstein
A short Vid of what it looked like with all the screens and stuff going......


video
Vid Michael Goldstein

Resupply went smoothly and we off loaded all the Cargo and fuel we would need for the year. The next series of pictures below was taken by the Twin Otter Pilot Russ and in the case below had quite a good vantage point from the seat of his plane at 1000m. Ship parked in position for resupply. 


Pic Russ Hepburn
 Below is probably a better view of the ice roads we make for the machines to get to and from the ship. At bottom of picture you can see all of the RTA (Return To Australia) cargo waiting to be loaded to go out.

Pic Russ Hepburn
 The view from out LQ (Living Quarters) is a tuff one as you can imagine.

Pic Russ Hepburn
 Now looking back at station from the bridge of the Aurora Australis.

Pic Russ Hepburn
 The last load of passengers being ferries out to the ship by yours truly. Thats me in the high vis standing next to the Hagglunds  on the left of me if Rowdy on his way home after wintering here at Davis.
Pic Russ Hepburn
 After loading up and taking up the gang plank as per normal the ship sounded its horn, we let off flares and it departed leaving us for our summer season.

Pic Russ Hepburn
 Everyone watching the AA turn around hoping it doesn't damage the ice too much so we can still go out on it.

Pic Russ Hepburn
The normal season starts and this time it was Davis is home what I thought was going to be for the next 4-5 months, little did I know how much would change in so many ways.

Pic Russ Hepburn
Thats actually one of the better pictures that I've see of Station as it shows you how far away from that plateau we are and on the top right of screen you can see the Sorsdal Glacier and you can almost see the crevassing.

So many things to achieve but with the amazing people we work with there are never problems as there are problems with too many solutions. So we hooked in and started kicking some goals. Much of what I was involved with this year was under snow and not a little bit either. Last winter they had the most snow I've ever seen here was amazing. Normally its snow clearing Casey but no not this year it was Davis. 

Anyway after about a month on station a myself and 3 others decided we needed to get off station for a weekend. 2 Lingers (winters that stay for the following summer meaning they would be on the ice for anywhere up to 18 months) and Curley a summerer and myself. The two winters Scottish and Birdman I've down a season with both but Curley only meet in passing last year on the ship on the way home. 

So out to Bandits we go, a lovely place it is too. Its a little island about as far away as you can go from station. Located near a place i hadn't been to till this year as well. Walkabout Rocks so named due to the copy of the magazine left there on the 11th Jan 1939 by Sir Hubert Wilkins resolved to reassert Australian sovereignty over the areas claimed by Mawson. Still there today is the copy of the magazine left in the cairn and the enamel coffee jugs protecting the flag as well.

The copy of the Walkabout Magazine dated October 1938. 
Pic Michael Goldstein
 At Walkabout Rocks we all sat and soaked in the atmosphere and below there is from left of picture me Birdman, Scottish and Curley sitting on the rock filling in the log book
Pic Michael Goldstein
 Me and Curley holding the flag which is left in the cairn with the original magazine
Pic Michael Goldstein
 Here is what Curley wrote in the cairn log.....

Pic Michael Goldstein
Back to Bandits with a great bunch of guys and many laughs. A great recharge from being on station cooped up. Want to know more about Bandits and the other field huts around here CLICK HERE and you'll find out. Really keen you can get a map by GOING HERE and downloading it, don't be put off by having to make an account its quick and easy!

You might remember Ive taken you to Bandits before too, forgotten CLICK HERE and check it out!

After a great night we slowly started making our way back to station via the fjords and the striking Basalt dykes  that cross the entire Vestfold Hills
Pic Michael Goldstein
 While driving threw there we came across a couple juvenile Emperor Penguins. Now we do see them from time to time but the closest rookery is Amanda Bay which is about 90km from here good map HERE and description of the Amanda Bay ASPA (Antarctic Specially Protected Area) HERE.

These two were fighting, don't know what about but they weren't happy with each other.

Pic Michael Goldstein

 As we were walking around the area we ran into what was probably a lost Weddel Seal pup......who knows how long its been there for as the dryness mummify things here.
Pic Michael Goldstein

Pic Michael Goldstein

Pic Michael Goldstein

 We also did a early summer swim and for the full story I'm going to be a little lazy here and you can go and have a look yourself at the story that was in Icy News but I am going to include a couple of my favourite pics here!!

Pic Michael Goldstein

Pic Michael Goldstein


Pic Michael Goldstein

Pic Michael Goldstein

Pic Michael Goldstein

Pic Michael Goldstein

Pic Michael Goldstein
So Christmas time and everyone was on a high with the pending visit from Santa again I'm not going to include any pics here as you can see them yourself if your interested HERE actually a really interesting story about Antarctic Skuas on that one as well.

But anyway a couple weeks pass and we are now back into the full swing of work. Monday the 11th January 2016 to be exact and it was just after 5pm and the SAR alarm was activated. There are two distinctive different types of alarm. Both you do the same thing and muster in the assigned places but with a SAR or Search and Rescue alarm it means something has happened. Now it could have been a drill as the wintering SAR team had been training but only one way to find out.

Muster it in the mess or dining room.



Comfortable seating everyone and in the case of a fire alarm names are called out to make sure everyone is accounted for but in this case it was to inform us what was happening. The room acoustics are bad, i mean that bad when everyone is there talking I'm lucky to hear the person sitting across from me let alone the person sitting next to me. Believe me what was about to happen was to change my season and make the normally loud room so quiet you could hear a pin drop. 

We learnt that one of our friends, Dave Wood had been involved in an accident. He was one of the 2 Chopper pilots that had been flying fuel to cache on the Western Ice shelf about 90 nautical miles away. They fly out with 4 drums connected to a long line and were putting it there for a science program that was going to need it later in the season. After landing normally they would disconnect the drums and roll up his sling gear stow and fly home. He however stepped out of his chopper and fell around 20m into a crevasse. The other pilot was unable to reach Dave and needed to fly the 45min trip back to get help. 

At the briefing we were told that the three FTO (Field Training Officers) who are trained for such rescues were to be flown out to assist and departed around 45min after we were told of what was going on. The mood around station was one of total disbelief........shell shocked, couldn't believe it had happened during such normal operations. 

A little after dinner we were told at another briefing that the FTO's had recovered Dave and he was on his way back to station. The feeling in the room when from total silence to jubilation. Half the battle was done and we got him. The battle was only just beginning for Dave as he was not in a good way. 

It amazes me that down here we really are here for each other so much more than back home. Closer than family in many ways, closer than your closest friends and the only people that truely understand this are the other people whom you come down here with. You fit in and do what you have to, we make it happen and do our best for our mates.

Media release at the time......HERE

8am the following morning at another briefing we were informed that Dave was fighting a tough fight but as of that moment we were on a go slow. This meant any high risk work, anything using power tools of a high risk nature was not going to happen. Work would continue for some, others feeling the effects of current events were counselled and we looked after each other. 

Media release at that time .........HERE

News didn't get any better either as at the 4pm briefing we were informed that as hard as everyone involved had worked, Dave's injuries were too much and he lost his battle. I can use every descriptive word in the world but that doesn't accurately depict the feeling in the room as we were told. I think everyone just sat still for what felt like an eternity. 

Media release at the time.....HERE

To say it was a pretty messed up time is an understatement. Life down here is as safe as we can make it but Antarctica sometimes has a different idea. Weather plays a significant role in our lives but it was not that. Nor was it mechanical, it was what lays hidden that sometimes Antarctica throws that can catch anyone of us off guard. Bridged crevasses are a real danger in our lives up on the plateau. Sometimes large enough to swallow a machine (normally a dozer) in THIS link you can clearly see what I mean. Sometimes only big enough to take someone much loved to us all...............

We sent off Dave the best way we know..........a little book full of our condolences sent to the family


Pic Russ Hepburn

Pic Russ Hepburn


Pic Russ Hepburn














The honour guard..........

Pic Russ Hepburn

Pic Bill De Bruyn













Final fly by before being taken to Whoop Whoop skyway and being taken home Everyone on the heli pad many a tear shed and not a soul moving until we had lost sight of the chopper. 

Pic Russ Hepburn
 As the sun finally sets and much time has been spent on remembering a good friend to the Australian Antarctic community, I will remember his laugh, his love of ping pong and of a good story.




Pic James Moloney

One of the guys who came in to help us out after all this happened Dave Paton put together this little video in tribute of a great man. 



Dave was part of something much bigger than anything or anyone in the "real world" will ever understand and his loss affected me personally quite profusely. To be honest I don't think I would be writing this if those events didn't unfold as I've said before. These blogs are very cathartic and writing them is personal and although I know people read them for me I'm sitting here openly weeping at the thoughts of what had transpired what almost feels like a lifetime ago but the cuts are deep. Its still fresh and not the first time I've had to go thru this in my Antarctic voyages with the loss of another three friends in 2013. 

I started writing after it all happened I guess to put my thoughts on paper and  to get it out. Although you're not reading my original thoughts but this event gave me my mojo for writing again. Id lost it for sometime, don't know if it was a lack of desire or need to after losing my mother and dealing with that. I remember why I enjoy doing this again and believe me the story is only just beginning but think I've covered more than enough for another sitting. 

Again check out my Facebook page and like it. Ill be uploading many more pictures that didn't make my blog and anything else i find interesting in my daily surfing. Feel free to message me and asks any questions which I will do my best to answer and it might even make my next blog. 

Take care

Michael

P.S...........“I guess by now I should know enough about loss to realize that you never really stop missing someone-you just learn to live around the huge gaping hole of their absence.”

Alyson Noel