Basler DC-3 upon arrival at the Princess Elisabeth station - © International Polar Foundation / Alain Hubert

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First team arrives in Antarctica

On Sunday morning, November 9th, the first team going to the Princess Elisabeth station to kick off the 10th BELARE season lifted off from Cape Town International Airport at 9:14 am South Africa Standard Time (07:14 UTC), bound for the Russian station, Novolazarevskaya, in East Antarctica.

Due to five-day delay to the start of the season, the first members of the BELARE 10 team on the ground (including International Polar Foundation President, field guide and team leader Alain Hubert, field guide Christophe Berclaz, mechanic Kristof Soete, system engineers Johnny Gaelens, Craig Masson, and Karel Moermans, carpenters Jacques Touchette and Gregory Diez, and team cook Riet Vandervlede) were eager to get to the station and get to work. The first group of scientists doing research at the station this season is set to arrive in about a week, and the station and all the equipment need to be ready on time to receive them!

The six-hour transcontinental flight across the Southern Ocean in the Ilyushin transport plane was uneventful, allowing the team to chat, relax, and mentally prepare themselves for the coming weeks and months they’ll spend on the remote, icy, desert continent at the bottom of the world.

A quick connection in Antarctica

The team landed on schedule at Novolazarevskaya station on the coast of East Antarctica in the early afternoon local time (13:00 UTC). After putting their polar gear on, everyone got right down to transferring the 1,834 kg of cargo they brought with them from the Ilyushin to a Basler DC-3 aircraft, which usually makes the short connecting flights to the Princess Elisabeth station, 450 km away.

After a few hours of intense work, the small DC-3 aircraft was fully loaded with passengers and crew, and took off just after 4 pm local time (16:08 UTC) to make the one and a half hour flight to the Princess Elisabeth station. The flight took them over the vast stretches of snow and ice that Alain and the BELARE team has traversed many times in Prinoth tractors in seasons past, on missions to transport to the station heavy equipment and supplies offloaded from an ice-class cargo ship docked at the coast. If all goes well, in two months’ time, some of them will embark on yet another traverse across this barren stretch of ice to haul equipment and supplies form the cargo ship to the station. However this time, they hope to have some new vehicles to help them make the journey (more on that later!).

No time to relax

Just before 6:00 pm local time (17:35 UTC), the DC-3 touched down on the runway near the Princess Elisabeth Station. Soon after, the first members of the BELARE 10 team emerged from the aircraft, with the sun low on the horizon and the air a frosty -22°C. They had their first glimpse of the Princess Elisabeth station, standing proudly on Utsteinen ridge nearby. After unloading equipment and supplies from the plane and transporting them to the station, they all had a quick meal in one of the mobile field containers scientists live in while on field expeditions away form the station.

In the meantime, the Basler DC-3 took of to head back to Novolazarevskaya station. Everyone at the staiton will see it again in a few days' time, when the next wave of arrivals is scheduled to arrive.

Then it was straight to work, starting up the vehicles and clearing away snow from the station’s garage doors. With less than six weeks to go to until summer solstice in Antarctica, the sun is already up for almost 24 hours a day at Usteinen, so there’s still time to get some work done before heading off to bed. With the season starting five days behind schedule, the team must now make up for lost time.

They’ve had a lot to do in one day!

Author: IPF

Picture: Basler DC-3 upon arrival at the Princess Elisabeth station - © International Polar Foundation / Alain Hubert

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