Thursday, 3 November 2011

The end of our isolation

Two Twin Otter planes made the trip from the Pole, in the end. Laden
with equipment and headed for the Australian Casey station, they crossed
Antarctica entirely, having made the long journey down from Canada,
stopping at Rothera to swap wheels for skis and then crossed the whole
continent from West to East, stopping first at the Pole then briefly
with us, on their way to the opposite coast and Casey station.

It was wonderful to hear for the first time a distant burr of the plane
on approach. It was such a familiar, but forgotten sound. And it meant
so, so much - a feeling of connection to the rest of the world at last.
I wasn't at the base for the arrival of the first plane and I didn't
meet that crew but I was back in time, twenty minutes later, when Bob
and Perry landed in the second plane. It was -45 degrees, right on the
minimum temperature to start a twin otter's engines, so neither plane
switched off fully. In fact Bob turned circles on the taxiway for ten
minutes waiting for the first plane to finish refuelling and clear the
station, keeping the engine temperature up.

The first twin otter taxied off just as I got back. Bob pulled up to
refuel and he and Perry jumped out of the plane and started hugging
anyone near them. It was a really nice gesture. I mean, it's nothing to
them to arrive here, this is just one more stop on their journey. But
they know how much of a big thing it is for us to see them. They took
twenty minutes to refuel, the pilots hanging around chatting to us as
Fred, Alessandro and Vivien ran the refuelling rig. Then when the
process was done, they took a packed lunchbag from Andrea chef and got
moving straight away.

I had walked up to the summer camp, lining up to take a picture of them
taxiing away. They taxied past me on their way to the airstrip, and I
gave a wave goodbye. And two minutes later I was standing right in the
open, in the middle of the main strip there when the distant plane took
off heading north, angling steeply up and then it looped back, dropped
right down and came low heading straight for us, to buzz the base.

It was a fantastic sight. The plane flew right over my head, seemingly
just above mast height, massive vapour trails pouring off the engines
and, I was wooping at the top of my voice and punching the air as they
zoomed right over me, past the base and headed toward the horizon. They
were completely gone in just a few moments, fat trails lingering in the
air behind them.

So that's it folks. It was a very brief meeting, but it means everything.
We're open for business.

To all the summer crew people on their way to us - whether right now
you're waiting at DDU watching icebergs drift by, or you're on
L'Astrolabe as it negotiates it's way through pack ice, or still in
Christchurch enjoying the summer sun, or just arrived to help open MZS,
in Hobart overseeing logistics, at McMurdo just killing time, on a 747
en route from Europe, or still at home preparing - we're looking forward
to seeing you all real soon.

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