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9 November, 2000

We're Off!

No delays were announced this morning so we caught the shuttle to the airport hoping this would be the day.

At check-in, each passenger is weighed along with his or her baggage.

It was a warm, sunny morning in Christchurch but we put on our cold weather gear to board the C-141 hoping that our next stop would be Antarctica. Flight operations are conducted by the New York Air National Guard.

Fifty-five of us were packed onto benches of nylon webbing. We shared the compartment with a helicopter, also bound for McMurdo Station. I felt a bit like a sardine, packed shoulder to shoulder and knee to knee. The noise was loud enough to require the use of ear protection. We all hoped to avoid a "boomerang flight" in which poor conditions cause the plane to turn back before reaching McMurdo.

I was able to visit the flight deck briefly for a look around. All that was visible out of the windows was blue sky above and white clouds below. After about six hours we began our approach to McMurdo. The lack of any windows in the passenger/cargo area made the landing a little spooky. When the door was opened we were treated to a flood of brilliant sunlight.

Stepping off the plane was an exciting moment. I was unprepared for the spectacular panorama of ice and mountains. During most of the season, planes land on the frozen surface of McMurdo Sound, as we did today. In January, when the ice begins to soften and break up planes must use a runway on the Ross Ice Shelf which requires skis rather than wheels.

As we headed to the bus that would take us the short distance to McMurdo Station, we could gaze across the frozen surface of the sound to Mt. Discovery in the distance.

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