Polar research requires ships, planes, and helicopters to supply bases and move people, instruments, fuel, and food to places where instruments need to placed, recovered, or serviced. While these activities are fairly routine and safe where most of us live, they are neither routine nor safe in extreme cold, extreme winds, or extremely remote places such as Arctic Canada, Greenland, or Antarctica.
I just learnt from an NSF Press Release that a Kenn Borek Twin Otter crashed into Mount Elizabeth in the Queen Alexandra Range of the Transantarctic Mountains at an elevation of about 3,900 m or 11,000 feet less than 2 weeks ago. All three Canadian crew aboard were killed. The plane was in transit from a research station at the South Pole to the Italian station at Terra Nova Bay to support Italian field work.
Here are the words of Dr. Kelly Falkner, Director of NSF’s Polar Division (source):
January 28, 2013
On behalf of the U.S. National Science Foundation and all in the U. S. Antarctic Program, I wish to extend our profound sympathies to the families, friends, and colleagues of the three Kenn Borek Twin Otter crew, whose deaths in Antarctica while en route to support the Italian national Antarctic science program have recently been confirmed.
We have been privileged to experience first-hand their professionalism, skill, and dedication to the arduous task of supporting science in an extremely remote and inhospitable environment. In many ways, their contributions make possible hard won but vital advances in scientific knowledge that serve all of mankind. Although everyone associated with the pursuit of science in Antarctica makes personal sacrifices to do so, very infrequently and sadly, some make the ultimate sacrifice.
While it may come as little consolation at this very sorrowful time, the families, friends, and colleagues of the crew members should know that the thoughts of everyone in the U.S. Antarctic Program were with them through the long ordeal of the past few days and remain so now.
To the families and friends of the crew, I commend your loved ones for their commitment and dedication to their profession and offer our condolences. The sense of loss is keenly felt throughout the U.S. program and no doubt throughout the international Antarctic community.
I am also thinking of Marty Bergmann, a Canadian Polar scientist turned administrator. He perished 2 summers ago in a plane crash outside Resolute, Nunavut in the Canadian High Arctic working his Government Canada job to tirelessly help others in their Arctic research. Unlike the photo below, I remember him with a massive ear-to-ear grin on his face and a twinkle in his eye.