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South Pole Emergency Air Drop(New photos added July 15, 1999)
July 14, 1999 — The U.S. Air Force last Sunday delivered supplies to the Amundsen-Scott research station at the South Pole. Due to the conditions at this time of year, the plane could not land, but it did drop very welcome supplies and medicine. Some of the supplies were sent to help a woman at the station who discovered a lump in her breast.

Stationed at the research station is Joel Michalski, who is a lieutenant for the NOAA Corps. He is in charge of the climate monitoring station that NOAA operates year-round at the Antarctic observatory. He collects and sends data to NOAA's Climate Diagnostic Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado.

Being in such a remote location of the world, Michalski describes how the mission of airlifted supplies affected him and those stationed with him.

(Click here for a variety of photos.)

South Pole — July 11, 1999
From: Joel Michalski, CMDL Station Chief
South Pole Station, Antarctica

Hello Everyone!

NOAA's Joel MichaskiSome days stand out in each of our lives. For me, Saturday night will rank as one of the most memorable, and perhaps mark a defining moment.

I'm sure you've seen the news regarding the medical emergency at the South Pole and subsequent air drop to provide necessary medicine. In short, a woman who chooses to remain anonymous, found a lump in her breast. Since there is no way to evacuate a person from the South Pole in the middle of winter, the National Science Foundation requested the U.S. Air Force to conduct an air drop of necessary medicine and diagnostic supplies.

We don't know if the tumor is malignant or benign, but hopefully the supplies parachuted to us will provide the tools to answer this question. From this analysis the woman will have a variety of medicines to use, hopefully covering the range of possible scenarios.

But the story I want to convey is about the actual air drop, what we did and how it went.

At 3 p.m. Saturday afternoon, Tom Carlson in the comms (communications) office announced that the C-141 Starlifter and KC-10 tanker departed Christchurch, New Zealand, en route to McMurdo Station, Antarctica. Between about 7:30 and 8:30 p.m., the C-141 and KC-10 connected in mid-air for refueling over McMurdo. At 8:30 p.m. Tom announced that the C-141 was en route to the South Pole.

At this moment we had 27 "smudge pots" patterned in the shape of "C" marking the intended drop zone, a 3,000-foot section of the summer airplane ski way. The smudge pots, constructed from half barrels and filled with wood and gasoline, were ignited, creating a bright, flaming marker. The rest of the outside lights around station were turned off so the pilot would not mistake stray lights for the actual drop zone.

At 10:30 p.m., the C-141 was in site and a minute later it roared over head, only 700 feet above the snow surface! It dropped two packages on the first fly-by, turned around and dropped four more and departed immediately, the whole operation taking less than ten minutes!

The aircraft was low enough that I actually saw a person at the side cargo door, arms and legs spread out, braced against each side of the door frame, body silhouetted by light from inside the plane, he was obviously looking down to us, and we up to him.

It was another human being, a stranger, in our world. That moment I realized how long I had been away, how much I have changed, and what part of me, despite all this communication, that will never be understood by anyone who hasn't been here for a winter. I was choking on the emotion.

There was no time to sit and think. As soon as the Starlifter departed we ran out to the drop zone to retrieve the six packages. It was extraordinarily difficult to find anything, the flashing strobe lights and chemical glow patches affixed to each box extinguished immediately in the -86 F air temperature. We had spotters watching from the highest structures around station and were fortunate to find five boxes immediately, but it took us one and a half hours to find the sixth box! I must have walked five miles over the snow surface with dozens of other people, searching back and forth for this missing box. It was finally found and we all headed inside.

Inside the new garage the boxes were disassembled and contents laid out for inventory. The box that made us the most happy was the one filled, actually PACKED, with fresh fruit and vegetables. Some of the fruit was crushed from the fall so people were grabbing up samples to taste and relish! Wendy, one of the cooks, made a point to say, "I hope there's extra toilet paper in all the bathrooms!"

The rest of the evening was more like a party. One box had fresh cut flowers for the woman in question and another box had the entire flight crew's signatures and well wishes written all over one side! More emotions welled up when I saw this.

Finally, at about 2 a.m., people rested for the night. Sunday morning the inventory of items was complete and some mail was distributed! I was lucky to receive a personal letter which didn't make it before station closing last February!

From the Ice,
Today's Weather: Clear, -85 F

Office of NOAA Corps
Since NOAA’s beginning, a large percentage of its oceanographic, atmospheric, hydrographic, fisheries and coastal data has been collected on NOAA ships and aircraft. This fleet of platforms is managed and operated by the Office of NOAA Corps Operations, an office made up of civilians and officers of the NOAA Commissioned Corps (a uniformed service of the United States). In addition to research and monitoring activities critical to NOAA’s mission, NOAA ships and aircraft provide immediate response capabilities for unpredictable events, such as recovery and search efforts after the TWA Flight 800 crash, damage assessment after major oil spills such as the Exxon Valdez, Persian Gulf War and New Carissa, and several major hurricanes during the 1998 season.