Friday, November 07, 2008
South Pole - from the archive 1/8/2004
I have been interested in Antarctica for a long time and read about anything I can find on the subject. My interest came about quiet by accident in 1980. You see I am a Ham Radio Opperator and while dialing my receiver across the twenty meter band I heard the word Lawrenceburg. This is a town about twenty-five miles from where I live. To my surprise the call sign this fellow was using was KC4AAA, this told me he was located at the South Pole. When he signed off with the station he was in conversation with I called him, he answered and told me his name was Pat and his home town was Lawrenceburg, Indiana. This was the start of a friendship with his family and Pat. I would connect my radio to the telephone lines so Pat at the Pole could talk to his parents and other friends here in the states. Other people at the pole would want me to do a phone patch as it was called to their friends also. Pat and I had a schedule two times a week starting at midnight, if I remember correctly that was three in the afternoon at the pole, they were on the same time as Christchurch, New Zealand. Sometimes other stations on the Antarctic continent would call and want me to run phone patches for them after Pat and I were finished. I was leaving the house for work at four A.M. at that time so it was pretty hard on me not getting much sleep, but I loved doing it. I did this phone patching for the fellows at the Pole for two years. I could tell you some very interesting stories about things that took place in that two year period, two stick out in my mind very vivid. I received a call about three in the afternoon, I had just walked in my home from work. The voice on the phone was very low and I could tell from the tone something was wrong. The young lady in a very quivering voice ask if I was the one that talked to the South Pole, I told her yes. She said she had to get a message to her brother there and could I do it. I told her I thought I could but it depended on the radio propagation and the time of day. Sometimes it is not possible but I would try that night. I ask what is your brothers name and what do you want to tell him. She began to cry. I knew it was going to be bad news. After a time she finally said tell him Mom has died. She gave me the details to pass on. I told her I would do my best to get the message through to her brother and I would call her back when I delivered the message. That night at 11PM I started calling on our sched frequency as I thought they may just be listing early. At about 11:45 my time I heard, "WB9OTX this is KC4AAA go ahead". It was my friend Pat, I told him the name of the man and that I had very bad news for him from his sister. I wanted Pat to tell him but he said he would call him on the all-call (intercom) and have him speak over the radio to me. This was one of the worst moments in my life when Pat told me he was at the radio listening and for me to go ahead with the message. I told him about his Mother in the same words as his Sister had told it to me. I felt very bad about telling him this as I knew nothing could be done to get him out from the continent and back home. Nothing comes or goes from the Pole in the Winter-Over period except radio waves. I told him I could call his Sister and run a phone patch to her, but he said no. He told me to call her in the morning and tell her he had received the message and to be strong. I called his Sister the next morning and told her what he had said. She thanked me over and over again. I ask her how she got my telephone number, she said the National Science Foundation gave it to her. To this day I have no Idea how or why they had my name and phone number. Remember, "big brother is always listening".
One more story I remember that I want to tell, but I am out of time so it will have to wait till tonight or tomorrow.
To be continued ………….
More South Pole
After reading the last post and seeing the little typos and how long it was, I promise to keep this one shorter. The typos just go with this Blog, so get over it.
To continue on with story number two, I think it was the Winter of 82 at the Pole. This makes it June or July here since the seasons are reversed or opposite in the two hemispheres. On one of our scheds Pat told me they were going to have an air drop. This had never been attempted before because of the great distance and weather conditions the planes would encounter coming and returning from New Zealand. The planes would be a pair of C-130s with no skies, as there would be no landing and hopefully a round trip. The planes would have to be mid-air refueled coming to the Pole and returning to Christ Church New Zealand, so you see it was quite a complicated trip to organize. I think we talked about it for more than a month. The families of the men (and one woman) were contacted and told they could send one package. Each person at the Pole could make one request for anything in reason. Most wanted some type of food ranging from ice cream to kiwi fruit, did I say ice cream, yes he wanted chocolate flavor. Pat told me I could send a package also, so I sent some things about Ham Radio and a 5 X 7 photo of myself. I told him to hang it above the radio to keep the mice away and do you know it worked as there has never been a mouse in the radio room to this day. I hope it is still hanging there. The packages were to be sent to New Zealand for relay on the air drop. The day came and all the crew were lighting flairs (it is dark for about 3 months) to mark the drop zone and trying to call the planes that were coming. I was at my radio listing and could hear the Pole calling the planes and I could hear the planes call the Pole, but neither could contact each other. I called the Pole and told them I could hear both of them. The planes were on a frequency that I was not allowed on, but they were also listening on the Ham frequency so they could hear me. I transmitted in the Ham band and I listened on the military frequency, this is called operating split. It worked very well. I relayed the location and arrival times to the Pole. It worked great and I have to tell you I thought I was really something being able to relay the como for this big adventure. It all went off without a snag, there were a few things that took place when the planes made the drop, but I am sworn to secrecy, I can say they were pretty low to the ice when they kicked the freight out of the planes.(nuff said) To end this story and get the point across that I wanted to make. All the crew got sick about a week or two after the air drop. There are no germs as we call them at the Pole because it is just like the inside of your freezer here at home, its just too cold for them. All the packages and food were carrying loads of bacteria and viruses attached to them. All was brought inside the dome that is heated and spread to the crew. Almost all came down with a nasty cold or worse. No one thought of this, but that ended all future air drops. I always think of the story ‘War of the Worlds’ that is what killed the aliens that were from Mars you know. They could not tolerate the germs here on earth that we are all immune to.
I hope you enjoyed reading this, as most people know little about the South Pole. I will tell you that things have changed with all the satellites and Internet. The crew at the Pole now can communicate just about as well as you and I do now from our homes here in the good ‘ol USA. But back 15 years ago and longer, the Ham Radio fellows sure provided a wonderful service to the stations in the Antarctic and I am very proud to be one of them.