Saturday, 3 March 2012

Delving into the past, accidents on the sea ice

I've been digging through the Internet (of which there is a lot) looking for previously missed observations of the sort of sea ice I study, mostly so I can add a star to a map where previously there had been only a blank space of 'not-sure'. In doing so, I came across some oral history gems, including this one where Brian Shoemaker interviews Stephen DenHartog about his work supporting Crary in his work at the Little America Station, on the Ross Ice Shelf, Antarctica.

In this interview, we learn that not only did Crary (for whom the science labs at McMurdo are named) drop all his oceanographic gear to the ocean as a cable wasn't attached to a winch, he also nearly lost himself into the ocean when the bit of ice shelf he was using to set up a hut fell 70 feet into the ocean below:

SD: Went out with Bert [Crary] and tried to do some oceanography.

BS: How'd that go?

SD: Well, that led to one of the more infamous stories of things happening in the Antarctic. We went out and we were installing an A-frame at the edge of the Ross Ice Shelf to lower oceanographic equipment over the side. Had the A-frame all pocketed in a couple of holes we had chopped in. Bert's holding the A-frame while I go back to fasten the anchor to it and then we adjusted the angle so it was over the edge. When there was a little noise, you've never seen this little boy run so fast because part of the iceberg calved off with Bert on top of it. It was reasonably high at that point. I think he probably fell 70 feet.

The story continues with Crary doing knee-bends on an ice floe while rescue efforts are put underway. No one tells the helicopter crew they're needed for a rescue as they want to keep this quiet, so they go and make a cup of tea instead of starting up the chopper, and eventually a rubber boat is lowered off the ice shelf and two more people go down and get in it, including the person in charge of local activities. In the end everyone comes out ok and uses the event as an excuse to break into the stores of alcohol.

Meanwhile, I get my hands on one more forgotten datapoint, scholarship is advanced a tiny step further, and I'm a little happy with modern standards of health and safety, if also less satisfied with modern outlets for adventure.

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