The Pegasus Wreck
SOUTH POLE, ANTARCTICA– What was that dark spot near the Pegasus ice runway?
When we left McMurdo it was a fairly overcast day. We returned to Pegasus Field (the same airstrip on which we arrived on the C-17) and boarded a C-130 Hercules to fly to the pole.
Soon after we took off I saw something in the snow from the window and I took a photograph of it. When I zoomed in on the photo I discovered that it was a crashed plane!
It turns out that what I had photographed was “The Pegasus.” “The Pegasus” was a C-121 Lockheed Constellation aircraft which crashed on Oct 8, 1970 in horrendous weather. None of the 80 people on board were injured. The plane had passed the “PSR” (”Point of Safe Return”). Many of the planes which fly from New Zealand to McMurdo do not have enough fuel to get back to New Zealand if they cannot land at McMurdo, so a decision gets made mid-flight whether or not it is safe to proceed to McMurdo. Because the weather in McMurdo is so changeable, “boomerangs” back to New Zealand are quite common. I have actually boomeranged twice in my six trips to Antarctica. In fact, once we must have come close to passing the “PSR” because we ended up having to land in Dunedin (on the southern tip of New Zealand), since we did not have enough fuel to safely get back to the more northern Christchurch airport.
And that’s how the ice runway being used at McMurdo is called “Pegasus”, named in honor of this crashed plane.
For more on the plane and its story, click here.
As you can tell, it can be an adventure getting to the pole. For me, everything went on schedule, and it still took a week! Now it’s been several days since I arrived, and the weather in McMurdo has been pretty bad of late. A C-17 boomeranged from Christchurch to McMurdo a couple of days ago, and additional attempts yesterday and today have had to be canceled due to weather. The flights from McMurdo to the South Pole have also had to be canceled due to weather - they have been trying hard to get a flight to pole because there is a person here who got sick and they need to do an emergency medical evacuation but they have so far been unable to. It looks like a plane just took off again headed this way, so I hope the folks waiting to leave will get out of here tonight. Currently IceCube has close to 10 people trying to fly to Antarctica from New Zealand, and close to 10 people trying to get to New Zealand from either McMurdo or the South Pole.