Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Just One Dangerous Day...

Hey All,

hope you are enjoying your lovely toasty winter weather!

Things have been trundling on mostly as usual in the last week or so. Let's
see, where did I last leave you? Oh yes. So we'd had some good, if cold,
weather. Friday morning we awoke to a very strange day - it was down in the
-70Cs, yet overnight a wild, plateau wind had whistled down from the domes,
and was hitting us at 25kts. This took the windchill down to -110C or so,
and as I stepped outside to go to work, i could see the southern cross, but
barely a foot in front of me on the ground. I had three of the electricians
with me, as I was to give them a tour of my telescope and the dark sector.
This turned out to be extremely fortunate.

As we stepped out of the beercan to head off, I gave them some random
information. 'In the rare case you get lost, make sure as you leave the
station you look up and see the southern cross. See the angle that you need
to take compared to the southern cross to get where you need to go. If you
ever get turned around, look up and follow the southern cross like a
compass.' Then I joked, 'Not that you should ever need it!' and they
laughed. We got out to MAPO and I gave them a tour. While out there we ran
into one of the UT's (Utility Technician), who was doing the daily rounds
checking the indoor temps around station. She chatted for a bit then said
bye and left for the station. We stuffed around some more then i got the
guys to put on their gear, as we were going outside to fill the cryogens for
the telescope.

Just as we were ready to go, one of the guys overheard the UT on his radio,
calling the station. She had been outside 20 minutes, and had been turned
around in the bad weather. Now she was lost. I don't normally carry a radio,
so it was lucky the boys were there with theirs. We were all dressed, so we
grabbed some lights, and headed out. As soon as we got outside, I understood
how she had gotten lost. The weather had turned even worse. With a light on,
you couldn't see past a two-metre circle. The four of us trekked around
AST/RO which she said was the last thing she had seen. Now she couldn't see
any of the red lights which are on the dark sector buildings. She sounded
cold and a bit panicked on the radio. I couldn't blame her. It was freezing
and black. We swung around our lights like a beacon. Finally she said she
saw us, and we swung our lights in that direction. We saw, with relief, a
far distant red headlight. I couldn't believe how far off the road she had
gotten - probably 200 metres. She came back with us to MAPO, and after a cup
of tea and a sit in front of a heater she was no worse for wear but for a
little frostbite on her face which was already fading.

She had missed the flagline because the first two flags have been pulled out
for the snow-cat to get through. I had done the same thing as her the day
before, but had luckily realised my error early and turned back - I had had
better visibility that day too. I now carry a radio every day, more so
people can contact me out here at MAPO as anything else. We drafted some
guidelines for what to do if people get lost, and also fixed up the flags so
that hopefully it will be easier to find. I hope we don't have anyone else
getting lost, but a lot of people trek out here, and we haven't had any
really big storms yet, so it is still a possibility.


In any case, all's well that ends well, and everything turned out ok. It was
a timely reminder that though I trudge daily back and forth in the antarctic
dark and cold, a lapse in concentration and my daily walk to work is deadly.
Handy to remember.

Robert's astronomy class has finished so I offered to do a little version of
a course on aliens and ET's that I helped to teach in Sydney, called 'Are We
Alone?'. I gave the first lecture on Sunday, and it had around 15 people
turn up (Not bad at this stage of the winter when people are losing interest
in just about everything.) I think it went ok, and had some good feedback.
Next sunday I talk about the origins of life and evolution. Should be
interesting.

You will hopefully see the new pics on my page of our fire/trauma exercise
last week, and our med/surg course (nothing too grim, just a look at German
Robert's tummy - i'm sure he sucked it in for the photos...). Hope you like
'em. Remember to drop me a line if you want, or have any questions.

hope you are all doing great,
smiles
Jess

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