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22 August, 2001

August 22, 2001

Playing Hooky (With Permission, Of Course)

If I hadn't been accepted into the TEA program, today would have been my first day back to work for the 2001-2002 school year in Berkeley County, West Virginia. Instead I had the pleasure of experiencing a helicopter ride over the frozen Arctic Ocean.

I was invited to join a crew of 5 aviators in taking a ride in a helicopter. Of course I jumped at the chance and packed up my cameras, grabbed my sunglasses, and reported for the flight briefing. This is where those involved in the flight operations discuss information concerning the flight like weather conditions, duration, and safety concerns. Immediately afterward, I was led to the flight hanger where I was suited up in a big orange mustang suit and headgear. The suit was equipped with tools for survival in case such a situation would arrive (a life vest, glow stick, salt-water activated light, a whistle that can be heard up to 1 mile away, an inflation collar, and a mirror for signaling up to 40 miles away). I was then taken out to the deck where I was helped into the aircraft and strapped in. I felt like I was preparing for a space shuttle blast off!

After several minutes of running checks, the pilots were ready to go. I felt safe and in good hands with our female pilot and 4 crewmembers, and off we lifted. It was quite spectacular to see the Healy underneath us as we cut away and headed towards the horizon. It was a beautiful sunny day and a bit of fog was hovering. The scene was indescribable!

The plan upon our departure was to find a suitable area to land the helo on the ice. After a search from above, no such place was spotted. Most of the ice looked too soft or thin to attempt setting a 8,900 lb. load. Soon the "ice fog" started to move in, too. Therefore the decision was made to do some general training exercises and then land back on the Healy. We spent about 3/4 hour in the sky before the helo was gently set down on the deck. It was amazing! (Unfortunately the battery in my digital camera died and I only snapped 4 pictures to prove it).

It is difficult for me to believe that it is August. The landscape here looks like a frozen tundra, and 24 hours of sunlight make it hard to tell what time of day it is. When we left Tromso, the sun appeared to be moving in a circle over us in its 24-hour rotation. Now, as we head into fall, it stays up at all times but appears to move up and down in the sky in a wave-like pattern in its rotation, nearing the horizon more and more each day. Observing such phenomenon and having new experiences here in the Arctic have been humbling-- and definitely worth playing hooky for.

Before my flight I was dressed up in an orange mustang suit. It is equipped with survival tools for Arctic conditions. <> .

A view from above! <>

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