Notes from the Field

Probably Not My Last

January 5th, 2012 by Maria-Jose Viñas

By Bob Bindschadler

McMurdo (Antarctica), 30 December — Got up early again this morning, but to no avail. Nowadays, as I leave my dorm, my head spins right to look onto the ice shelf for any sign of fog. It’s become a habit now. This morning it is crystal clear. I can see the Pegasus skiway out there. When I reach the mess hall, I pause at the handwashing station to read the scroll on the TV with information regarding flights. And there it is—Mission E005 to PIG is on a “weather hold”. What that means is that we aren’t expected to appear for a shuttle ride to the skiway. We are simply supposed to wait until the message is updated.

I call the Movement Control Center (MCC) and ask if they have any updated time for our transport to the skiway. They have to check with Air Services (this seems unduly complicated) for the current status. I’m told it is likely that the second mission to PIG today (carrying the helicopter), which was to be in the afternoon, will be cancelled and that our mission will slide to the later slot. The transport time for the later mission is 12:45 PM, so that’s their best guess of what will happen. About 15 minutes into a slow and sad breakfast wherein more of our group show up, that’s exactly what happens. We have another six hours to wait.

I gather what information I can about PIG, but it is pretty limited. It is only just after 6 AM and the regular day workers are not in their offices yet. I go back to my room and catch a short nap.

Later I reemerge and try to put together the story. The weather observations from PIG are indicating visibility limited to 800 meters, 18 knots of wind and blowing snow. The wind is not the problem, but the limited visibility is. It was the reason the flight was put on hold. The webcams indicate some reduced visibility, but a number of us are surprised it is being reported as only 800 meters (0.5 miles). We have little say in this—the eyes on the ground are gospel.

It’s now just past 11:30 AM. Lunch has started and I need to plan for the transportation. I’m going to eat, then see what, if anything, has changed. We may still get our ride to the skiway—a none-too-pleasant 45-minute jostling—and it may come to naught, but it is all we can do at our end.

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