By Randy Skinner
Our shuttles to the airport were waiting for us at 4:30AM on Monday, 21 November, as we were scheduled to report at the Clothing Distribution Center at 5:00AM. As we arrived we were instructed to change into our ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) clothes. So we found ourselves hanging out in Christchurch at 65 degrees Fahrenheit, dressed in clothing designed for -20 degrees. It was a bit toasty.
After a short flight briefing and safety meeting we loaded onto busses for the ride to the aircraft. Our flight was on a USAF C-17 transport. It’s a big plane. The center of the fuselage was filled with pallets of gear and supplies for the base. There were 30 seats on each side of the fuselage for passengers, and seats for 25 more in the center at the front. With the plane filled with 80 passengers, including the King of Malaysia, we taxied out and took off into cloudy skies. It was 8:15AM.
Onboard, most people slept due to the early departure time, others searched though the sack lunches we were provided with for the 5-hour flight. As there is always a possibility the plane will “boomerang” (have to return to Christchurch without landing), the lunch is big enough to serve as two meals. It was a lot of food!
As we moved further south the temperature in the plane dropped lower and lower, until people were quite happy to have all of that ECW clothing on. Just before noon, out of the small porthole style windows on the plane (there are 6 windows on the whole plane), the edge of the sea ice, and the continent of Antarctica came into view. The feeling on the plane was electric. Not many people ever have the opportunity to visit this remote land.
We landed on a runway melted into the sea ice at 12:47PM. After thousands of miles, and days of travel and preparation, we were on the frozen continent.