Thursday, December 14, 2006

Landing on the Ice!!!

Knock! knock! I awoke with a start! Is it time already? 3:30 AM! I must've dozed off after my alarm. My colleague Liz alerted me of the airport shuttle's arrival at the Windsor, and I picked up my bags and headed out.

Most of my fellow passengers in the shuttle like me, had arrived in Christchurch, New Zealand a couple of days back on a long flight from America and were now about to get on the last leg of the flight to begin an exciting Austral Summer season in Antarctica!

We gathered at the Antarctic Center and picked up our bright orange bags and clothed our Extreme Cold Weather (ECW) gear ready to board the flight. After some coffee, a briefing and security clearance, we finally boarded the USAF C-17 jet, which is one of the main transport aircrafts ferrying passengers and cargo between Christchurch and McMurdo station, Antarctica. Some of us had been on this flight before, but for me this was going to be a new experience.

Flying in a loud cargo plane isn't the most pleasant experiences, but putting on earplugs/head phones is a great relief and after a while you get used to it. There are no windows, so after your mind is satisfied that the huge truck behind your seat isn't going to roll you over, its time to either munch on your brunch packet, or chat with fellow passengers, or try and catch some sleep. A few hours into the flight I discovered that there were two small ports towards the front of the cabin and as we approached the Icy Continent I got my first glimpse of the enormous icebergs easily visible from our altitude of 20,000 feet!

Then, an announcement of the landing preparations sends a wave of excitement through the passengers as they start zipping up their ECW clothing and prepare themselves for a landing of a lifetime. It is a thrilling experience as the aircraft weighing over 200 tonnes descends on the Ross Ice Shelf. The door opens letting in the chilly wind and the blinding white light off the ice. I'm glad to be dressed warmly and wearing my UV polarized glasses as I set foot on what has rightly been called the Last Frontier!

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