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Australian Pilot Stranded In Antarctica 855

Posted by michael
from the should-have-used-AAA dept.
mirio writes "Australian Jon Johanson is currently stranded in Antarctica at the US McMurdo outpost. He was attempting a flight from New Zealand to Argentina via the South Pole when he encountered a headwind that caused him to burn more fuel and divert to the base. Now both the Americans and the New Zealanders there are refusing to sell him fuel. Jon's story is amazing. He has flown his homebuilt RV-4 around the world three times and to the North Pole. You can read about his trips around the world here."
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Australian Pilot Stranded In Antarctica

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  • by RedHatLinux (453603) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:27AM (#7687752) Homepage
    Sell the man the fuel. Christ keeping him there with free room and board is just as likely to encourage "tourism" as letting him finish his trip.

    Besides tourism is fairly common in that part of the world anyway.

    • http://www.iaato.org/
      http://www.antarctica.ac.uk/About_Antarctica/touri sm.html

      I guess some people already have tourism packages there.

    • by virg_mattes (230616) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @10:48AM (#7689540)
      You must keep in mind that their statement of discouraging tourism has more ramifications than just keeping people away from the station. There are many considerations that you're apparently not making. Here's a short list of reasons I can come up with, and I'm not even trying:

      1.) They have a specific amount of fuel at the station, for their own use and for reserves. If they're to sell him any fuel, it must come from their working stock, or their reserves. The working stock is there to run their own machinery (snowmobiles, their own aircraft, generators and such) and the reserves are their safety net in case something goes wrong, because they're a long way from help if something does go really badly for them. What makes you think they can spare 400 liters of fuel without endangering themselves whenever someone shows up like this?

      2.) They're afraid that if they give him the fuel, he'll do something utterly stupid, like, say, trying to fly his craft out instead of leaving in a safer, more sensible manner. The fact he's there to begin with is a testament to his lack of foresight, and maybe they don't want the added burden of a possible rescue mission, or knowing they gave him the rope to hang himself with. They offered him a free ride on the next boat out of the area, after all, so it's not like they're leaving him out in the cold (so to speak).

      3.) They're genuinely afraid that if they give him the fuel, they'll have to deal with this situation again, with the ramifications of (1) and (2) above, when the next daredevil decides to drop in. By making his exit expensive and unglorious, they can discourage others from trying the same.

      4.) Replacing the volume of fuel that he wants will require them to fit the extra fuel into their next shipment(s), and so rather than selling him the fuel and going through the effort to replace it, why wouldn't they just let him arrange (and pay for) his own fuel shipment? This doesn't help with (2) above, but even so, it's not their problem to solve.

      All in all, it seems very short sighted of you to tell them how to run their outpost when you seem not to understand the situation they'll be putting themselves in by helping him.

      Virg
  • Standard practice (Score:3, Informative)

    by johndiii (229824) * on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:28AM (#7687755) Journal
    Is this standard practice for "adventurers": End up stranded somewhere through poor planning, and then expect someone else to bail him out and pay for it? Seems like it from the article. The bases did not refuse to sell him the fuel, they refused to give it to him. He could have offered to buy it, though the cost might be high - it's expensive to ship fuel to Antarctica and store it. Or he could have taken them up on their offer of a free flight home, with his plane to be shipped later.

    And, of course, they're feeding and housing him for the time being.
    • Re:Standard practice (Score:5, Informative)

      by cduffy (652) <charles+slashdot@dyfis.net> on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:38AM (#7687803)
      The bases did not refuse to sell him the fuel, they refused to give it to him.

      Do you have actual evidence for that statement? I find it pretty darned unlikely. Yes, the wording of the story is that the bases "refused to give him fuel" -- but one who refuses to sell something is also necessarily refusing to give it. The wording is ambiguous, and I'm quite confident that most native English speakers would agree with me on this one. So, since either definition can easily follow, let's play the "What's More Likely" game.

      (1) - This guy who has enough money to build this experimental plane lets himself stay stranded because he'll only take fuel if someone gives it to him for free

      or

      (2) - He is in fact attempting to buy fuel (as one would from "a gas station", which the bases insist they are not) and the bases are unwilling to sell.

      Well, you tell me: Which is more likely?
    • by Wwolmack (731212) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:45AM (#7687819)
      Dennis Miller says it quite well, but in a slightly different subject.

      If you are going "adventuring", at least have a contingency plan.
      I view professional extreme athletes with, at worst, mild puzzlement and, at best, genuine respect. But what pisses me off are the amateur extreme athletes, who don't just risk their own lives -- they make some park ranger, fireman, or cop risk his life to save them. Every time I see a soldier who enlisted so he could defend his country, end up having to put his neck on the line, rappelling off a helicopter to save some middle-aged hero-wannabe jagoff who skied 20 miles off the clearly marked trail just so he can have a better pickup line than, "Hey, baby, your place or my moms?", I can't help but hope that just this one time, the kid from the National Guard is going to change his mind and chopper away to get a well-deserved beer, but not before getting just close enough to shout, "Hey, asshole, Charles Darwin says hi."


      -- Dennis Miller's rant from April 6th, 2001.
  • by Madsci (616781) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:28AM (#7687756)
    Why should the U.S. or New Zealand taxpayers have to front the bill for this guy's foolish lack of foresight? Send him home freight class... or make him wash dishes.
  • by Lord Kano (13027) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:29AM (#7687760) Homepage Journal
    Sell him the fuel at a VASTLY overinflated price, that would be more than enough to discourage tourism. And it would get him out of there ASAP.

    I think $10 US/Gallon would be a fair stupidity tax.
    • by divec (48748) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @04:02AM (#7687881) Homepage
      Sell him the fuel at a VASTLY overinflated price [...] I think $10 US/Gallon would be a fair stupidity tax.

      LOL - my local garage charges US$5.28 per US gallon (actually GBP 0.80 / litre). For roadside callout, it can easily be double that. So $10 doesn't sound that outrageous for Antarctica.


      OK, so we're being taxed the hell out of, apparently to cover the cost of roads. I just thought it was funny that your punitive rate actually sounds like quite a bargain here in Britain :-)

    • by mumblestheclown (569987) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @05:02AM (#7688061)
      I think $10 US/Gallon would be a fair stupidity tax.

      Actually, this would be a bargain. AVGas occasionally sells for as much as $12 per US gallon at places (airports) like Narssarssuaq in Greenland which do a brisk business with transatlantic aircraft ferry pilots.

      even if his RV4 is set up to use MoGas (I suspect it is - it's unlikely that mcmurdo would have AvGas on hand to sell), $10/gallon in antarctica strikes me as not a bad deal.

    • Just found an old article from The Times magazine (dead tree version) on Antarctic expedition.

      Apparently there are actually specialised fuel operators servicing the Antarctic and in 2002, the fuel was being delivered at $11/gallon. (Only 2x the UK forecourt price.)

      However, I've just been reading in serveral places on the web that the fuel price has tripled since last year, placing it at $33/gallon!

      I would suggest that a reasonable 'idiot' tax would be $100(US) per gallon and he might think twice abou
  • by nate nice (672391) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:31AM (#7687772) Journal
    Give him his 100 gallons so he can get home and then have him fly the 100 gallons back to them, if it's physically possible for him to do this. Seems like they are being kind of rude to him, but then again they don't *have* to sell him their gas, I suppose. Thinking about it, the kind of people they seem to be, you would think they want him out of there as son as possible.
  • At a stretch it's exploration, but science? No fricking way. So why does Slashdot think of it as such?

    OK, so he's flying a kit plane - but it's not a kit plane that he designed, is it? It's one that he bought from a company that sold hundreds of them.

    So I'll ask again, how is this news for nerds or stuff that matters? If I bought and assembled a kit car then drove it across the Sahara desert would that make the science section of Slashdot? On what basis?

    I'm not trying to diminish Jon Johanson's achieveme
    • Because the scientists are refusing to sell this joker fuel, fuel they most likely need themselves so they don't get in deep penguin-droppings like said joker.

      I'm sure he can radio someone who can bring him all the fuel he needs, and he can pay for it and fly away (or crash). And they're being really nice letting him stay on the couch and all, for free no less.

      He's just whining. So let's rewrite the headline as "South Pole Scientists Refuse to Bail Out Reckless Adventurer" and then the icon will make mo
  • by John Seminal (698722) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:32AM (#7687778) Journal
    And why do we have military bases there? They said they want to discourage tourism. This makes me want to go there and check it out.
    • by Vitus Wagner (5911) <vitus@wagner.pp.ru> on Thursday December 11, 2003 @04:13AM (#7687915) Homepage Journal
      These a scientific bases. That is why it is science and why it is matters.

      US bases are run by military forces, Russian bases are run by Arctica & Antatrcica Scientific Research Institute, but both do the same things, and both practice exchange of researches since their founding in 50th.

      I don't remember however, which authority runs New Zealand base, but I think it is not Army.

      I'd hardly consider US military base an accomodation where Russian researcher can work for monthes in the middle of Cold War.

      • by Deep Penguin (73203) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @11:51AM (#7690109) Homepage Journal
        U.S. Research Stations in Antarctica are not run by the military. They are funded by the National Science Foundation. The Military does the flying because they have the expertise and the equipment. They do so under contract to the NSF.

        The Navy detachments that once ran the research stations (NSFA) and exclusively did the flying (VXE6) were disestablished several years ago, but they hadn't been exclusive for years before that.

        When I was first at McMurdo in 1995, NSFA ran the hospital, the air traffic control tower, weather and an electronics shop. They had already ceded the cooking, firefighting and other activities to the civilian contractors in previous years.

        These days, the only military presence on the Ice is the New York Air National Guard (NYANG) who flies the LC-130s, (I think) regular Air Force who fly C-17s and C-141s, and an occasional Navy person at the McMurdo radio station (still military-affiliated).

        The overwhelming majority of us down here are civilians.
    • by Darth (29071) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @05:54AM (#7688227) Homepage
      And why do we have military bases there? They said they want to discourage tourism. This makes me want to go there and check it out.

      Antarctica is where the second stargate was discovered. Who knows what other alien technology is frozen in the ice, just waiting to be discovered...

    • The armed forces are there with the scientists. From what my co-worker told me (he was stationed there in the US Navy) is that the scientists at the bases hate everyone and everything there that is not a fellow scientist. The main reason the military is tolerated is because they do the upkeep on the bases and are a convenient when a rescue/evacuation is needed. The scientists have a big say on what goes on there.

      There's a high degree of elitism and snobbishness on the part of the scientists, and from wh
  • Reliability... (Score:5, Interesting)

    by skogs (628589) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:33AM (#7687780) Journal
    I know that there are some incredibly high performance and extremely technical aircraft available to the person with lots of money, skills, tools, and materials. These planes outperform commercial offerings, and provide the incredible sense of 'I built it myself' and 'I know everything there is to know about this aircraft'.

    I feel these things about the computer systems that I build, and I appreciate the feeling. I also have a fetish for flying, and joined the Air Force to enjoy aircraft and being around them...even though my job is with computers.

    Still, it stands out to me...I would not trust anything that I built to fly my ass down to the other end of the state...let alone over something as barren and deadly as the north/south poles.

    It certainly takes a special kind of person to look at the plane that he built and say to himself "Yes, technically it can perform this task." and completely ignore the other voice in his soul saying "Although perhaps I should not force my luck."

    I love flying, I really do. I love fixing aircraft and flying them. I also know not to try to fly over the damn south pole, north pole, or anywhere else that I might die in...assuming that I survive that 1 in 1,000,000,000 flight hours crash.

    My gosh son. There is a reason that only military aircraft regularly fly over antarctica. Its because if it goes down...supposedly they can send another one...and...those people signed up to die in the service of their country.

    There is one other person that I can think of with this mentality, and only one. Chuck Yeager. Perhaps this man should take his fearless and confident self down to the local recruiter and tell them he needs a new job as a test pilot.

    • Re:Reliability... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Afty0r (263037)

      It certainly takes a special kind of person to look at the plane that he built and say to himself "Yes, technically it can perform this task." and completely ignore the other voice in his soul saying "Although perhaps I should not force my luck."

      On the other hand, it takes a *very* trusting person to look at a plane built by a bunch of people in a country they've never been to, and maintained by mechanics paid as little as the market will allow, and choose to fly in it over the permafrost in Greenland, o

  • Fuck'm (Score:5, Insightful)

    by jaxon6 (104115) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:33AM (#7687781)
    Am I the only one who thinks the guy should be grateful to be alive? Hey, how about I go to Antarctica..., woop dee doo, woops, there's a bit of a headwind, wouldn't expect that in .. ANTARCTICA. Well, it's a good thing there's people smarter than me, I'm sure they'll save my ass for me. WHAT! I can't get gas!!! Well, no, I didn't plan ahead to possibly have gas shipped here, I figured I could just stop at an Exxon. I mean, there's Exxon all over Alaska, so why not here?

    Anyways, fuck'm, he deserves the exact treatment they're giving him. And I bet they won't be charging him for the ride back, to boot.
  • by bckrispi (725257) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:34AM (#7687785)
    While I sympathize with Johanson's situation, I can't help but think how the heck he got himself there. I can't imagine a trained, responsible pilot embarking on an "adventure" like this without
    1. Checking the weather report to see what direction the frickin wind is blowing.
    2. Planning for multiple contigencies before bad things happen
    3. Going on mapquest to find out which gas staions are on your route
  • You'd think it would be very "Australian" for the Australian government to help out another Australian in his time of need. Why doesnt the Aussie government go and collect him? Does it have to do with what province he landed upon? Who cares? Australians should do it. Or maybe because the Australians rescued someone from britian (tony buliiblabla?) the Australian government says to england/britan, ok, you'r turn now, even thought this has nothing to do with them. That'd still be funny to see!
  • by Howzer (580315) * <grabshot@hotmai l . c om> on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:35AM (#7687790) Homepage Journal
    So, he runs into some strong unexpected headwind, and is able to land at a base that's really close to another base.

    And the reason he's being denied fuel is because he had "no contingency plan".

    Sounds like typical government double-speak to me. The contingency plan was obviously to land near the bases if he got too much headwind.

    Now, they've got enough space on their ships to transport his plane home (at his cost) but they don't have enough fuel to sell him (at his cost).

    Why am I not believing anything the NZ govt. spokespersons are saying?
  • by Jugalator (259273) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @03:59AM (#7687871) Journal
    Why didn't he just contact those guys in Antarctica (or someone that could in turn contact them) so he was sure that it would be ok with them if he needed some help out there.

    Sure, it might be silly of them to not offer fuel, but maybe they have their reasons to why they aren't doing that, but offering him a trip home as an alternative solution. Can't really blame them with a guy at least as silly, going to Antarctica and relying on people's hospitality when he could have used his brain a little before going there. It doesn't take a genius to understand that maybe you should check if there's anyone there to help if you'd happen to crash on one of the most inhospitable places on earth. He should be glad everything got sorted out so well, with them giving options to get home and also offering him a place to stay while waiting for it. That's a perfectly reasonable solution to me.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 11, 2003 @04:18AM (#7687921)
    "Antarctica New Zealand, the national scientific research program, could not provide the 47-year-old with fuel anyway because it did not have aviation gas, and the petrol it had was not of aviation quality. "
    • http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/11/107108 6202326.html
  • by quonsar (61695) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @04:25AM (#7687941) Homepage
    Nobody ever drops by.

    <deliverance>
    Yew shore got a pretty mouth, boy.
    </deliverance>

  • by Ion Berkley (35404) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @04:45AM (#7687994)
    Governments (especially the US) have made an art out of screwing many capable people whos detailed antarctic plans have hit some unlikely snag, despite there best intent. It is likely this guy arranged nothing in advance with McMurdo frankly because he knew by reputation what there response would be. Adventure Network International fly planes into antartica for climbing expeditions and they have been fighting against these attitudes since day 1. They have to bring in everything themselves including return trip fuel. They normally refuel at a BAS base where they have shipped fuel to in advance. Check out the history of Giles Kershaw if you want evidence that even the very best antarctic pilot faces random chances and poor odds.
    At least this guy hasn;t been forcably 'rescued' so far against his will, that has been the fate of some of his predecessors.
  • by one-egg (67570) <geoff@cs.hmc.edu> on Thursday December 11, 2003 @04:49AM (#7688013) Homepage
    My cousin happens to be at McMurdo right now. Here's what she said about the guy:
    Since the subject is unexpected visits, I'll tell you what I know about the Australian guy who tried to fly across the south pole to Argentina. He got low on fuel and landed at McMurdo where he was most unwelcome and apparently very unprepared. They've been feeding him and letting him sleep in a fuel shack while they figure out what to do with him. I'm going to try to get out and talk to him today, because I think he's being sent back on a USAP flight tomorrow.

    At the pole, I saw three guys who were skiing downwind to the coast with kites and touring skis. They weren't particularly welcome there either. I guess the US doesn't want to encourage people to do silly things in Antarctica because they've had to pick up more than a few parts in the past. Like the four skydivers who slammed into the snow near the south pole several years ago.

    Then again, no one owns Antarctica so why shouldn't people do what they want.

    • Hahah (Score:3, Funny)

      by autopr0n (534291)
      They won't sell him fuel, but they make him sleep in the fuel shed. That's just cruel :P
    • by metlin (258108) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @07:08AM (#7688458) Journal
      Then again, no one owns Antarctica so why shouldn't people do what they want.

      Hmmm, sure go ahead. But do not expect your sorry @$$ to be hauled out of the place when you think you can jolly well do anything you please in there.

      The more the number of people who come, the more the number of idiots like this guy who think, "Hey! You know what, I'll fly by Antartica today. And if something goes wrong, I always have one of them research bases to help me out. Oh come on, someone or the other would rescue me? Wouldn't they?"

      I mean, come on. Its a research base. And it takes a lot of resources to get stuff in there. And people. And I would think they have better things to do than haul the sorry asses of guys like him.
    • Then again, no one owns Antarctica so why shouldn't people do what they want.

      Not to argue 2nd-person here, but nobody's SAYING that people can't (or even shouldn't) do what they want - it's the whole "I expect someone will take care of me if things go wrong" attitude.

      And let's be honest - they ARE taking care of him. They're feeding & housing him which is already reasonable charity. They're shipping him home on one of their regular flights, again, reasonable charity. The whole "give/sell me som

  • by dann0 (555381) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @04:58AM (#7688044)
    I don't think that 100 gallons of fuel is an insignificant amount in a place where shipments are probably only made every 3-6 months.

    I would much prefer to ensure the that fuel was used to help the researchers and their support teams in an emergency rather than some adventurer's poorly planned and whimisical flight of fancy.

    Please don't think I undervalue the benefits of exploration and adventure, but what this guy has done is like climbing Everest and not packing a spare tent or two. He's just assumed that the others will bail him out. That's wrong.

    If the 1996 Everest Disaster and the 1998 Sydney To Hobart Yacht Race proved nothing else, they demonstrated that Heros die when they go to help others. Being a so-called adventurer and forcing others into risking their lives to help you is completely irresponsible.

    I think that offering him food, shelter and a return trip home is extremely generous. Expecting to get fuel that is part of someone else's contingency against disater is nothing short of foolishness.
    • What half the posters seem to be missing is that he has been helped out. He got into trouble and they gave him shelter, food and a way back home and they even allow him to take his plane home.

      What more could you expect? They are not an airfield or refuel station. Say I am climbing in the alps and get stranded. Can I then ask the rescue chopper to fly me to the top of the hill or drop me off at my hotel? Of course not. I get rescued. That is it. Nothing more nothing less. Rescue services are not cabs, hotel

  • by tehanu (682528) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @05:51AM (#7688219)
    From here: http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/12/11/10710862 02326.html

    "Sanson said he understood Johanson struck very high head winds soon after leaving Invercargill, on the southern tip of the south island.

    "We believe it would have been wiser to turn around when he got into difficulties," he said.

    Sanson said Antarctica New Zealand, the national scientific research program, could not provide the 47-year-old with fuel anyway because it did not have aviation gas, and the petrol it had was not of aviation quality.

    "It's very unclear that at McMurdo or Scott base we have the fuel he needs," he said.

    "We've done all we possibly can in terms of the resources we have."

    Sanson said Johanson's expedition seemed "very ill planned", adding the adventurer had no search and rescue back up or contingency plans and only had a two-hour fuel margin for a 33-hour flight in his flight plan."

    http://www.abc.net.au/news/newsitems/s1008265.ht m

    New Zealand's side of the story:

    "Antarctica New Zealand spokeswoman Shelly Peebles said American and New Zealand authorities were being painted in a bad light but Mr Johanson had taken a very irresponsible approach.

    She said he filed a flight plan just before he left but kept his South Pole flight plan a secret because he knew both American and New Zealand authorities would have stopped it.

    "All our research points to the fact that this guy had one mission in mind and that was to fly over the South Pole," she said.

    "He abdicated complete personal responsibility for any kind of contingency plan or consideration of how he was going to get back with limited fuel.""

    The other side of the story:

    Mr Johanson says he spent months studying weather patterns in the Antarctic before he left, including "a lot of time talking with Australia's top Antarctic weather forecaster".

    "Any suggestion that this was a flight on a whim is far from accurate," he said. "Weather is only one very small segment of the whole flight, but it can happen to any flight anywhere in the world that things just don't work out as forecast.

    "Weather can't be an exacting science. You can't blame the weathermen. I guess, technically, we should have made the decision earlier, and that was where the mistake was made."

    It seems like he is insisting on the fuel rather than the flight out because it will be waaaaaay more expensive to take the flight out and have the plane shipped to him.

  • The whole truth... (Score:3, Informative)

    by Goldenmaribou (691748) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @10:14AM (#7689234)
    Having been to Ross Island, both at Scott Base and McMurdo Station many times over the years, I can tell you straight up that you aren't seeing the whole truth here from the media reports.. 1.) First off, the RV-4 runs 100+ octane low lead AVGAS. Neither the Kiwi's or the Americans have any need for 100LL. Everythings run on Deisel or JP-5. There are no piston powered airplanes on Ross Island. There are trucks and tractors that may run regular gas, but at sub-freezing temps, I wouldn't try it in an airplane. Therefore, give or sell, there's no fuel down there for this guy. 2.) If he's to arrange for cargo shipment off the island of his plane, he'd better do so in a hurry. It's fast coming upon the time for Mac-Town to close down for the winter. He's going to have to coordinate with the National Science Foundation, which is the organization that arranges for the U.S. Coast Guard to break a channel into the fast-ice around Ross Island each year. More often than not, the cargo ships that enter the Ross Sea need to be escorted to the ice pier at McMurdo Station by an Icebreaker. It's bound to be a pricey proposition either way. The dude had to have lost his noodle flying that little kite over Antarctica during this time of year. Neither the Americans or the Kiwis should be forced to deal with this guy. I wonder if he's aware of the multitude of international treaties that he's subject to once he crosses south of 60 degrees....
  • by caveat (26803) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @10:35AM (#7689418)
    I've seen a few posts pointing out they probably don't have avgas, and a few pointing out that he probably used moto-gas in his aircrat, but nobody seems to have mentioned that they simply might not have any gas to spare. what with the hideous costs associated with shipping anything down there, it wouldn't suprise me if they figure out their seasonal fuel consumption to the liter, and then put up stores accordingly. YES - i'm sure they have a reserve, and probably enough of a reserve to get this guy home...but I don't expect them to welch on their safety to bail this id-10-T out. Let him cool his heels (no pun intended) in the storage shed and pay for his own damn shipment of gas, then send him a bill for food and heating costs once he gets home =D
  • by spiritraveller (641174) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @11:24AM (#7689864)
    It's as if someone comes to your house in the middle of the night, completely wasted drunk, asking you to sell them your can of gas.

    They have fed him and offered to send him home. Apparently they are not getting a lot of credit for that.

  • Yellow Journalism (Score:3, Interesting)

    by sharkey (16670) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @11:44AM (#7690050)

    Quoth the poster: Now both the Americans and the New Zealanders there are refusing to sell him fuel.

    Qouth the article: But both the Americans and a nearby New Zealand base refuse to give him the fuel

    The article has no indication that an offer to buy fuel made made by the pilot, nor any statements that the US or New Zealand have refused to sell him fuel. This is simply a "govmint"-bash troll on the parts of mirio and the /. editors.
  • Its about policy (Score:5, Informative)

    by decsnake (6658) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @12:23PM (#7690454) Homepage
    Unlike most everyone else here, I know a little about this. I was involved with the United States Antarctic Program (USAP) for about 10 years and I've been to the South Pole 4 times.

    The policy of the USAP is not to support private travel in the Antarctic. Period. They will perform SAR activities and help you return to your place of origin. This is the policy. It was set by the National Science Foundation in Washington DC (more or less, the USAP offices are in Ballston now).

    As far as this guy goes, he's not being treated any differently than the Gore-tex Trans-Antarctic expedition was, or the outfits running adventure travel packages to the South Pole are. The USAP will only intervene to prevent loss of life. If you don't like it write your congressman.

    This guy claims to know what he's doing but that doesn't appear to be the case to me. There is a concept in flying called the Point of Safe Return (PSR). Your PSR is determined by your actual range which depends on your fuel load and effective groundspeed. It appears to me that either this guy didn't know what his PSR was or chose to ignore it (remember his goal was not McMurdo, South Pole or even Palmer Station, but Puntas Arenas, Chile). As far as the conditions go, that part of the world is known for bad weather (understatement). Its not uncommon for the USAP LC-130s to reach their PSR and have to turn back. Even given WX updates from McMurdo and Christchurch, things can get dicey. I was on a return flight from MCM to CHC one time when we had to land in Invercargill due to severe unpredicted headwinds.

    Its hard to say what the actual fuel situation is at MCM. Most equipment there runs on DFA or JP4. There is some MoGas for pickup trucks and snowmobiles. So there is a multi-year supply of those fuels on hand. AvGas, on the other hand is only used to support light plane ops and the supply of that would be based on year to year science program requirements.

    The adventure travel outfits seem to be able to support light plane ops in antarctica without depending the USAP to bail them out so I don't see any reason why this guy couldn't have done the same. It sounds to me like he's been offered a fair deal: a ride home on the next return flight and a ride for his plane when the re-supply ship sails for NZ.
  • by ianscot (591483) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @12:39PM (#7690594)
    I interviewed a guy, Jurgen something, who'd flown across the North Pole in his private plane back in the late 80's and who write a little book about it. Still have the book around the house somewhere.

    Half of his story was about all the contingency planning you need to do for something like this. What happens if there's a mechanical failure? He had several ways of navigating -- it isn't that easy at the poles to know which way's home. All his route legs had alternatives, and he knew exactly where he'd go in this and that situation.

    Doesn't seem like the South Pole has as much leeway, okay, but it's the responsibility of our would-be tourist to figure out his options beforehand. I'm with the people on the ground there; their role isn't to be someone's backup, and their treatment of the guy seems more than fair.

  • by Animats (122034) on Thursday December 11, 2003 @02:33PM (#7691733) Homepage
    McMurdo experienced a three-day storm [polar.org] just a few days ago. Forty people were trapped overnight at the airport. Two people had to be rescued with a tracked vehicle. The search and rescue team had to find two more people stuck out by the runway. They're plowing and digging out. "We'll be feeling this for another four or five weeks," fleet operations supervisor Crist said. "Some of it for the rest of the season."

    That's what was going on when this bozo landed.

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