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Plane crash won’t keep OSU scientist off the ice

Plane crash won't keep OSU scientist off the ice

The Columbus Dispatch
15 January 2008
Columbus, Ohio, USA

On Dec. 20, a National Science Foundation-chartered plane in Antarctica crashed during takeoff from a field site near Mount Patterson in West Antarctica.

None of the 10 people (a crew of four crew and six passengers) aboard was severely injured, but the DC-3 Basler did sustain heavy damage.

OSU research associate Eric Kendrick was aboard with five other Polar Earth Observing Network researchers.

Via e-mail, Kendrick talked with Dispatcher reporter Garrett Downing about the crash and his experiences studying the ice sheets in West Antarctica.

Did you know anything was wrong when the plane started to take off?
The takeoff started normally. At Mount Patterson, as is typical at the place where we install our equipment, there is no runway. We land and take off in our ski-equipped airplane wherever the snow is adequately smooth that the pilot things those procedures can be done safely.

Antarctic winds shape the snow into long ridges called "sastrugi." The pilot has to choose his takeoff and landing areas so as to avoid sastrugi large enough to damage the landing gear. ...

As our plane accelerated to takeoff speed, the bumps occurring as our skis crossed the sastrugi seemed to me at first to be nothing out of the ordinary. But as we continued to build speed and the bumps got harder, I braced y left arm against the sear in front of me so that I could be ready In case something happened.

I estimate we were traveling close to 80 (mph) when, after another hard bump, I saw the left wingtip hit the snow outside my window. Immediately the plane spun to the left and we went sliding. I put my right hand over my head to be ready to cushion my fall in case the plane were to flip over, but we came to a stop after just a few more seconds of sliding and bumping over the sastrugi.

When you realized the plan had crashed, what were your initial thoughts?
My initial thoughts were I was glad that the plane had not flipped over, and I was relieved that I saw no fire. My next thoughts were that we should quickly disentangle ourselves from our collapsed seats and then get out in case a fire were to start.

Were there any problems getting another plane to come and retrieve you and the nine others who had been on the plane?
After getting out of the plane, we called back to McMurdo (Station) on our satellite phone to explain our situation and to notify them that no one had been seriously hurt.

At that point, we expected that it might be three or more hours before a plane could reach us, but we knew that since no one was badly injured, there was no need to risk an immediate rescue mission until all options had been considered as to the safest and most efficient way to get us out.

We were lucky that the weather was good, but we hoped that a plane would arrive before weather conditions deteriorated, since otherwise we might be stranded there for days.

Working in Antarctica obviously poses its threats, but did the plane crash make the dangers more apparent to you?
I think all of us are very aware of the dangers that our work entails, and we all work hard to minimize those risks. I think many of us have had "close calls" before during field work in remote areas; I know I have. The risks aren't unique to Antarctica.

Did that incident make you want to come home at all, or was it something that you know can always happen?
I love this work, and accidents like this are part of the territory. My main concern after the accident was that an airplane critical for our field work this year ahd now been wrecked. Without the DC-3, accomplishing this year's mission was going to be a lot more difficult.