Leaving Antarctica, the Dreaded Passage

Leaving Antarctica, the Dreaded Passage


What to say about Marambio?

What to say about Argentinian Air Force?

It was quite windy, at that top of the hill.

The approach was to be made carefully, because of the downdrafts next to the runway threshold, and as I have told, it was a very special moment, after such a long and special flight.

There they were, the Base Commander, and a lot of people. Some faces hidden under special ¨masks¨ that remember me interstellar wars.

The wind and cold make quite advisable to wear such protective devices. Good things for Antarctica!

Soon I was directed to their nice hangar, where the aircraft would be safe and where I could perform some maintenance.

But it was not time for that. It was time for a shower and time to share the wonderful lunch moment with them.

I was quite tired.

During the flight, I have had no much food. My stomach was closed to any solid intake.

During the lunch my body was there, but my mind was still up in the sky, computing fuel remaining, range, weather, and plenty of things.

They had me relaxing step by step, with a lot of care and respect.

At the end of the nice lunch (good cook at the kitchen), I was able to reach something horizontal, called a bed.

I was installed at the first floor of a bunk bed sharing room with other Air Force young people.

That reminded me my Air Force time, the dreams, the duty and of course, the clock.

I entered a spin and crashed my body into the bed. I fell deeply asleep.

Not for a long time, because of the dinner !

Marambio is located at the top of an island, surrounded by icebergs. Downhill, the penguins were enjoying the life.

You have to walk some seven kilometers if you want to visit them….

I don´t understand why, but I knew that the visit was not going to be that very same day!

We talked about the leopard seal, how they just have their head out of the water, to take a penguin inside their stomach, as taking a can into the basket, when shopping at a Market.

Many histories about Marambio, Antarctica, people and feelings.

Around dinner time, I was taken into the weather office. Soon the situation was to be clear: a kind of acceptable clear weather window opened after bad weather, and soon was to be erased from the universe.

I thought that I would be staying at least one day, to rest, but I was wrong.

One rest day could stop the flight for quite a long time, so I decided to wait and see after the night.

That night was short. My dear neighbor from the lower level bed, had powerful lungs and restricted outflow valve, so the thunder waves were able to bounce at the room´s wall, and have my ears vibrating on the same frequency. It was funny because of that echo effect.

I was so tired that it was not an issue and I was able to rest.

Early in the morning the wake up calls started to do their job. I think that they used s four different ones, with fancy musics.

Shower, breakfast and weather: it was a GO situation !

Only problem was Ushuaia.

All that has happened with USA, BAS and ALE, was already known at Ushuaia and the Argentinian main land.

I was waited at Ushuaia by the Government, so it was important to land there.

Ushuaia was set as main destination and Rio Grande as alternate.

Weather at destination was not good at all. Low ceilings, blowing snow, wind, icing and things like that. Things that could be frightening….

Excuse me: they WERE frightening !

Only way to reach the destination was to fly over the weather and find a hole to reach the sea safely, at some 500 ft Mean Sea Level.

Weather was to be fine at the alternate airport, so I would try that approach Ushuaia approach and if not safe enough, I would proceed to Rio Grande.

Following the advice of Ricardo, Vice Comodoro and Base Commander, former C130 pilot, I prepared my mind: I was going to enter the Beagle channel from the East, approaching Hornos cape.

A C130 can turn 180 degrees inside the Beagle channel, would you need it –Ricardo told me .

That was quite ensuring !

I removed the belly tank. It was a sad moment, but my RV performances would improve quite a bit. Now, that tank will be part of the small Marambio museum. I feel quite proud of that !

Some tape was removed from the engine intakes, the temperatures to be seen were about -17 C, so just one inch tape wide staying was adequate to have the engine properly cooled.

The fuel was brand new one. Before feeding the plane, they had it checked for quality and lack of water. Really good professionals and myself, I felt cocooned !

I was given many presents, and stickers for the airplane. Of course, I accepted them all with pride and respect. Thank you all !!!!!

Would you have landed at Rothera, you would not have been stuck there: we would have had a Twin Otter ferrying you the fuel you needed to complete your scientific flight !

It was not because of myself, it is because Argentina provides full support to all the countries that are doing scientific work in Antarctica. That includes, of course, BAS and other groups.

It was time to leave…

All the survival gear was on, and again I was feeling like a sausage in a hotdog (no mustard, please 🙂 ). Water is quite cold there. Ditching without the drysuit would mean around 30 seconds before losing my arms and legs control). Then, you know the rest of the story.

Time for photos, thanks and engine start.

As I cranked the starter and the engine sputtered, I was leaving behind me not only people, but friends.

Winds had changed during the night, I was taking off into the East. Engine check O.K. Flaps one, canopy closed, head on top of my shoulders, and full forward throttle.

The aircraft was light and quite clean of drag. It accelerated fast .

Soon I reversed my track and was speeding over the runway, tail wind, to make the low pass more impressive.

Everybody waiving their arms, what a nice moment!

Nose up, to some 30 degrees. Nose upwards motion stopped. Speed lowering to below maneuvering , and then :full left stick!

Icebergs, sea and everything circled my eyes, then went into my ceiling, to finally return where they belongs: upright.

That roll was my physical good bye. My mind stayed there.

Blue waters, icebergs, mountains, and I think, a huge whale, were in sight.


Departing Mariambio

The RV climbed like a home sick angel, and soon I was picking up nice tailwinds.

Ushuaia was in the four hours range.

Soon I was released into Chilean Marsh frequency 118.1.






Deception Island

Deception Island, Livingstone one, where the Spanish Antarctic stations are located were soon in sight and what a beautiful sight !

A pity that they did not arrive yet: I would have made a low pass.






Next to Marsh


Joy was soon to be over. The cloud layer was thick underneath, and no holes were in sight. Clouds meant moderate icing, and it was not a matter to test the forecast icing rate.

I told myself that it was a matter of patience and I would find that opening.

I scanned that cloud layer all the time. It was like looking for a prey. I set a heading eastwards of Ushuaia, into the three islands at the Beagle channel entrance, very close to cape Hornos.

Don´t descend over land if you don´t see –Ricardo made clear

Some 30 or 40 nm from that invisible point, I found that hole into the sea. The sea underneath was not blue. It was like black. Only the white crests of the waves, provided some light.

I rolled the airplane and dived.

Sea was enraged underneath. It was pouring water, with restricted visibility, inside the showers.

Temperature was +7 C, so everything more or less OK.

I entered the channel carefully, looking for the rocks left and right side of my path. Not a game at all!


Approaching Ushuaia

Water and snow showers had me deviating all the time. Then, close to destination, the weather suddenly improved.

I was even being able to see some Sea Lions resting on a beach, and then, not far, Ushuaia city and the runway.

Gusts were up to 37 kts, so I decided to use the minimum flaps setting. It was a good decision.

A big relief invaded all my body, when my dear RV was taxiing under control. I was there, safe, after crossing the whole Antarctica, and the Southern Ocean. It was really a very important moment, the best of the gifts !

Soon Carlos Lavado, Aeronautics Director of the area, came to meet me. I never expected so much kindness and help !

The aircraft was parked at the Government Hangar, and both of us, finally, were able to rest.

We were exhausted, but we did not still know it.

Finally! I can move!!

Finally! I can move!!

One Comment

Schneider_p / Nov 21, 2016 7:45 pm / Reply

That report confirms my experience and conception with Argentine people. Argentina is not a very rich country, but they share and give all you need, if you have difficulties. Their friendship and their social network is incredibly great, it impressed me very much. I had the thankful pleasure to experience that when I travelled whole Argentina several years ago, meeting friends, who live there.
Hopefully Michel will return from there… In any case, he will have a lot of fun and good experiences. Cheers!

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