This is the 27th entry in the Armed with Science series, Dispatches from Antarctica. The series features Air Force Lt. Col. Ed Vaughan’s first-hand experiences on OPERATION: DEEP FREEZE, the Defense Department’s support of National Science Foundation research in Antarctica.
28 Oct, McMurdo Station, Antarctica
[NOTE: I’ve delayed posting this entry. Both because it is appropriate to wait and because I wish I didn’t have to write it. After discussing the matter with our National Science Foundation (NSF) management at McMurdo, and the producers of this Department of Defense blog, I thought it important to move this one in front of the backlog of Dispatches we’ve amassed recently. I’ve provided links below to news outlets in both French and English. I will not attempt to provide the news here, but rather offer a brief glimpse into this horrific event from the vantage point of fellow members of the Antarctic Community.]
Today seemed like an ordinary Thursday. However, for the families, colleagues, and friends of a certain French Antarctic team, this Thursday will be filled with grief. It is anything but ordinary. Today, four members from l’Institut polaire Paul-Emile Victor, in Brest, Brittany, France would tragically perish in a helicopter crash near the French Antarctic research station Dumont d’Urville.
But we didn’t know that until two days later. At the time of the mishap, the focus at McMurdo was very different.
I finished work at 10pm and returned to my quarters for some evening tea. After addressing a noise complaint in one of the nearby dorms, I returned to find an urgent pager message waiting for me. It was just after midnight. The message indicated an overdue helicopter and a request for assistance. I went back in to work.
At McMurdo, unusual events and crises are often handled by the EOC, Emergency Operations Center. The EOC is convened by the NSF Station Manager on an as-needed basis. As the inter-agency government lead for the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), the NSF determines which, if any, of the USAP’s assigned and contracted assets and personnel will be made available to support requests for international support. Other international programs have similar arrangements.