Return to normality, such as is

Date: Fri, 4 May 2001

Well we're done with both medevacs, settling back into the interrupted winter routine. Both flights went smoothly, and not by accident: there was a huge amount of effort all the way along the line on both sides of the continent. All three air crews and ground personnel at different stations pulled together their knowledge, skill and pure time commitment to make it happen. Denver pretended to be in charge of course but I'm just proud of the people I work with.

I wound up being on radios for almost a week as the missions got spread out by weather. Fortunately the South Pole and McMurdo flights ended up being on different days, so it never got frantic. I stayed on the day shift and wound up handling more radio traffic for the Pole flight than for our own. Working a 12-hr shift I didn't see a lot of people here, and for a week my world was more Pole, Palmer, and Rothera than McMurdo. I had faces for the voices at Pole and the Twin Otter crew, but even the unknown voices at Palmer (ours) and Rothera (Brit) became more familiar for a few days than the people I usually see every day. We had a bit of low-level drama: just as the KBG, the Twin Otter, was approaching the Point of Safe Return when they have to commit to landing at the Pole or else turn around, our forecaster found some menacing clouds in the satellite picture. Twenty minutes later when their next position report was due, several people gathered around the radios waiting to hear if their next estimated position would be South or North. They chose south and the word went around quietly: they've passed PSR, KBG has passed PSR. The menacing clouds slunk off, the landing was routine, and our moment of tension did not make CNN.

The real work of course was going on at the South Pole, which was almost completely dark. They lit all the lights they had to light, and set out burn barrels along the skiway. You try getting wood to light at -90F, when gasoline freezes. A friend later described the scene to me, with people in a utility vehicle passing heating propane torches out to the "runners." Running in full ECW at altitude isn't easy, but sitting inside a cab full of lit propane torches and gas fumes isn't so great for your health either. This of course we didn't get on the radios, nor did we hear the effort that went into heating up the engines and unsticking the skis from the snow when they were ready to leave. We just got "KBG offdeck from Pole."

The crew had a rest period at Pole so most of the flight back to Rothera was also on my shift. HF propagation was not quite as good and we did some dancing around on different frequencies but we got it all worked out. Right at the end there were about 5 different things going on at once and people watching me run around from radio to console to terminal, so it really felt like being back. Paula got the Rothera to Punta Arenas flight on her shift so that was it for me.

On our flight we got some mail, some freshies, and 600 pounds of popcorn (don't even ask). We lost 11 people: 2 urgent medevacs, 4 non-urgent but still pretty important medevacs, 2 resignations due to illness in close family members, 2 mutual agreement departures, and 1 termination (bar fight). Our runway is shut down and we're all back at our regular winter tasking (boy is the PC tech happy not to be answering the Help Desk phone any more). The rumor mill is taking a breather.

The play that caused such a fuss a while back finally had its performance last weekend. Station authorities decided it could happen here, on the condition that it be advertised only as "THE MONOLOGUES." The Recreation guy dressed up as a Secret Service agent and stood at the door, warning everybody that the play contained adult content. It was a great success, the cast did an awesome job, it was a full house, people even dressed up. End of fuss.

It's been a quiet week so far. The T-Site blues band is practicing 2-3 times a week now and we sound more like music. It's about a week past last sunset now and at 1pm (our local noon) the northern sky is dull orange, fading through dusky purple and blue. Today there were some ghost clouds above ghost mountains across the sea ice, with a low band of wind-blown snow obscuring their feet. Other days the wind picks up the snow in town and nearby buildings fade in and out of view. I am grateful to be here.

Best to all,


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