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Harsh survival lessons in cruelest climate

Published time: June 25, 2011 05:25
Edited time: June 25, 2011 20:30

Antarctica has one of the most unpredictable climates in the world, but for people who go there in the name of science, dealing with environmental extremes is a daily reality. RT's Sean Thomas has seen how people survive at the ends of the Earth.

­Antarctic storms are known to be fierce, sometimes forcing those who have to endure them to take safe harbor.

The crew of the Moana Wave ship was able to pull through the tempest and even work with nearby stations to repair their damaged vessel, but they were lucky.

It was blowing pretty bad, it was 10 to 12 foot seas, blowing 30 to 35 knots, so the boat was rolling around quite a bit,” recalls one of the deck members. “We had to put the boat in the ditch or in between the swells, so we were rolling around pretty violently trying to make repairs on the good rudder so that we could have steer-ability.”

Operating in such a remote environment means replacement parts are not always available and the workers have to make do with what they can.

Because of the harsh and extreme weather conditions, Antarctica is widely considered one of the most dangerous environments on the planet, which makes the logistics of operating down there more than just inconvenient, they can be downright deadly.

During the same storm the crew from the Uruguay Artigas base lost one of their team when a jeep rolled down an embankment into a frigid Antarctic lake.

That was the most difficult experience in my career,” says Longino Sosa, Uruguay station chief. “In such moments I start to think that God just wants to try us out here.”

In Antarctica, time is a valuable commodity and work crews have limited time to prepare the base for winter.

After the accident happened, we didn’t even have the time to make a stop, which the moment required,” says Sosa. “A stop to think, to express compassion. We had to go on with our work, which we finished at about 4am the next day.”

The incident sparked an outpouring of international support from the surrounding bases.

But in a twist, all too appropriate for the harsh realities of working in Antarctica, the Chilean Air Force plane that was to airlift the body of the perished Uruguayan back to South America, suffered an explosion in the left engine as it was taking off. The pilots onboard averted another fatal tragedy by a matter of seconds.

Still, the southern continent does not provide the opportunity to dwell on the difficulties.

The key thing is to tackle all problems as soon as possible, or the opportunity will be lost,” claims Colonel Alan Mejias, commander of the Chilean base. “When there is no immediate response, we take precautions and avoid actions that may get any one of us hurt. For example, when the airplane engine failed, we avoided doing anything that could have gotten us hurt in any way, so we don’t have to airlift anybody out of here. We avoid any risks until another airplane arrives.”

This is a system derived from unfortunate necessity, which keeps those living and working in the face of danger as safe as possible.