After more than a week of a delays, the Kiwis finally left. The weather held out and the LC-130 Hercules landed. 20 or so New Zealand Defense Force cats boarded up to head north. Weather has not made life pleasant for them, waking every morning about 4am to see if the plane was coming. Waiting. Hoping against hope that, even though the plane took off, it would land here. Never quite comfortable until they actually heard that it was on ice. Flights commonly “boomerang” back to Christchurch mid-flight when the conditions turn sour. But this flight landed. We got mail, they got on board.
As is tradition, winter doesn’t officially start until the last flight leaves. This was that flight. We all gathered on the back deck of Hut 10, the swanky hut reserved for celebrities and what not, and the area adjacent to Hut 10 for the traditional start-of-winter champagne toast. Words were said. I can’t honestly claim to know what they were because I was standing far off and had two layers over my ears. Winter may not have officially started until the plane left, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t freezing my ass off.
“Kiwi flight ### uncontrolled take off successful” or something along those lines. And that’s it. A champagne slushy (I wasn’t lying. It’s cold!) and winter is here. Our last flight.
Until next month.
The plan is to have flights come in periodically throughout the winter. They will bring us mail and fresh vegetables. They will take off-ice whatever needs taking off. This is tremendous for the medical team. It does provide a modicum of peace of mind in regards to critical patients and medevacs. As part of this new plan, the runways will be maintained throughout the winter. Runway prep typically required a few days, delaying any medevac. Now, mostly lousy weather and crew availability will delay medevac. This is a significant improvement from a medical standpoint. Evacuation of a critical patient in previous seasons had the potential of taking a few weeks. Worst case scenario now, according to the Big Boss, we’re looking at 9 or 10 days.
A contingent of people will leave in June and another will take their place. Our winter-over crew is not exactly a winter-over crew. The dynamic has changed. This is my first winter, so I have nothing to compare it to, but the is a general lamenting at the loss of “real” winter. It will still be dark. Flights do nothing to alleviate the cold.But the isolation is gone. Winter is just a cold, dark, less populated summer now. There will be a few stretches where we’ll go a couple months between flights, but certainly not the 6 months or so that it used to be. Mail, freshies…..wifi. Winter has become a little more comfortable and a little less isolated than in previous years.
I overheard rumors of changing the Last Flight toast to a sunset toast. (The sun sets for about 4 months during winter). I think I just took part in the last Last Flight toast of McMurdo Station, Antarctica. It’s become incredibly difficult to experience winter as my Polar predecessors did.
Although I could do a winter at South Pole. Pole is still just as fucked as they’ve ever been. I had to stash some medical equipment on a Canadian flight that was headed through Pole a few weeks ago, because once winter hits, there’s no getting in or out of that place.