Storms in McMurdo, even mild ones can cause travel problems. I was re-scheduled to leave "The Ice” today. I have, indeed, made it to New Zealand! The plan (plans in Antarctica are always subject to change!) was for a C-17 to fly in from New Zealand, unload the new people arriving in Antarctica, then depart to do an air-drop of fuel to the AGAP project (Antarctica’s Gamburtsev Provence project which is quite close to South Pole), then return to McMurdo to pick-up those departing the continent and return to New Zealand. Weather could change that plan at any moment, and we had weather brewing! Those scheduled to depart had to watch the "transport monitor” all day. We were told to arrive at transport at 4:00 pm, but to watch the monitor closely because it could be changed to an earlier time.
The planes flying to Antarctica include C-130’s and C-17’s. The C-130’s are smaller and slower, and have to pay close attention to the "point of no return.” Basically, before any plane leaves New Zealand heading for Antarctica, it must be considered likely that the weather will "hold” long enough for the plane to make the 5-8 hour flight (depending on plane type: C-130 = 7.5 hours, C-17 = 5 hours) and be able to land in McMurdo. The C-130 needs to be extra careful. It only carries enough fuel to make it to McMurdo. At the "point of no return,” (which is about the half way point) the pilot needs to decide if the weather looks likely to hold for 4 more hours as it makes its way to base. If it looks questionable, the plane must turn back for New Zealand; this is called boomeranging. The C-17 is different. It carries enough fuel, and can fly long enough, to be able to actually make it all the way to McMurdo and if it can not land, turn back and fly all the way back to New Zealand. It’s always a risk that the C-17 will boomerang back from McMurdo.
Those of us trying to leave today watched the monitor that tracks the planes progress closely. The red star on the screen shows the planes current location and flashes when the plane is in motion. A solid red star means the plane is no longer in motion and has landed.
The C-17 gets closer to Antarctica.
The C-17 is in McMurdo and the star has stopped flashing!
We heard that the plane loaded up with 1/3 more fuel than usual prior to taking off to AGAP to do the air-drop of fuel. This could mean that they wanted to be sure to have enough fuel to do the drop and head straight back to New Zealand, or that they didn’t want to have to refuel when they returned to pick us up.
The transport monitor pushed our transport time back to 5 pm. Everyone started wondering if that meant the plane may not come back to get us, or might land and not take off again as the weather seemed to be getting worse. We waited, and waited.
Finally, we were cleared to go to transport. Everyone that was leaving the continent loaded into the Delta trucks and were taken out to the Pegasus runway. We waited. Then it appeared, the C-17 flew in low over the ice, circled once, and landed. We were quickly loaded into the plane, they loaded a few pieces of cargo into the back, and we were off – quick as that!
The Delta trucks
I have never been on a C-17 that wasn’t loaded to the "gills” with cargo! It was quite nice to have some space to spread out and stretch! It was still loud though! I have made it to New Zealand!
The C-17 lands and quickly lets us board!
Loading up some cargo.
I was able to stretch out on the cargo runners - not bad!
(As I travel, I may not always have access to the internet, so my next journal may be a few days away and I may not be able to respond to questions / emails immediately. I promise to check back in once I am back in communication!)