Tuesday, February 16, 2010


Out here, we spend a lot of time preparing for emergencies. Many of you know that I took a helicopter underwater escape training class, and we have safety meetings before we work with any equipment on the deck. We spend a lot of time getting ready for things that will probably never happen.

Last week, three people left the ship by helicopter for nearby James Ross Island. On the flight home, the weather worsened and they had to land on the island. Greg Balco, the geologist I've told you about before, Doug Fox, our science writer, and Barry James, the helicopter pilot, had to spend the night on the ice. It took a few days for the weather to improve, so they ended up staying on the ice for four days and three nights.

They're all back on the ship now and they're fine. Every time one of us takes a flight by helicopter, we have a survival bag. Those bags add a lot of weight, which means we can't take as much equipment as we would sometimes like. But those bags are the reason that everyone made it through. They had tents, stoves, food, and sleeping bags, as well as a survival manual. All three of the people on the ice have a lot of camping experience and their personal bags contained spare clothing and flashlights, even though they completely expected to be back on the ship the same night.

Greg, Doug, and Barry each ate one freeze-dried meal per day. They had fuel and a stove for melting water. In the Antarctic, water can be a big problem. You can't melt snow in your mouth for water because it takes too much energy, and your body needs that energy to keep itself warm. They all stayed calm and kept in contact with the ship via a satellite phone, and they cut blocks of ice to build a shelter to keep some of the wind and snow off the tents.

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