"Last Plane (just the 28 of us)"

Katy McNitt - February 13, 1995
Expert on Ozone and Climate Change

    Well the South Pole Station is officially CLOSED for the winter.

For the next eight months, no planes will land here. Weather permitting, one C-141 will fly overhead in June to "airdrop" medical supplies, fresh produce, mail, and spare parts; otherwise, it's "just the 28 of us" until next October.

And we're loving every minute! ;-)

The last plane arrived on Saturday morning, just before lunch. Mother Nature treated us to a mini-winter weather display, as if to impress the summer folks (and maybe to intimidate the winter folks a little): the ambient temperature wasn't so bad (-40), but with an 18 mph wind the windchill dropped to about -90 F. Also, any wind over 10 mph lifts snow from the surface and flings it around in violent swirls, so I felt like I was being sand-blasted on my way to work that morning. The sun offered little consolation from its hiding place behind a thick gray wall of altostratus clouds. Darn chilly!

But a great day for SOUP. So our winterover cook, Emily, whipped up two big pots of soup and some fresh bread, and all of us sat around in the galley, saying good-bye to our summer friends. After a couple of pep talks and speeches, we heard the announcement for all departing passengers to head for the plane.

What an exciting time! As we pulled our coats and mittens on, you could feel the nervous energy. Those who were leaving were looking forward to the plans they had made, and I think those of us who were staying were starting to wonder just what we'd gotten ourselves into! We were a bit melancholy, too, as we walked up to the flight deck and hugged each other good-bye. We looked like penguins, all bundled up in fat clothes and bumping into each other.

As the last passenger boarded the plane, our Station Manager turned around to do a quick head-count. I don't know if he was expecting too many or too few!

When the plane took off, they flew by and dipped their wings right, then left, in a final salute before turning and heading for McMurdo. We walked back into the Dome for more soup and some of that delicious bread.

By Saturday afternoon, most of the tables had been removed from the Galley and a couch was brought in. We didn't have to wait in line for the food, or for the bathroom after lunch!

And suddenly the place seems very quiet.

We'll spend the next two weeks unloading cargo and putting things away, cleaning out buildings, washing sheets, and getting everything ready for winter. The fuel hoses are put away and we're draining all the water from the bathrooms out at summer camp. The barber-shop pole stands lonely and decapitated, its silver ball stored safely inside with the flags, and anything else which might be damaged by this winter's winds.

Then, once the place is buttoned-up, we can relax into our 'winter mode' and wait for the sun to set.

Work won't be so hectic without visitors, cargo, and mail.

We'll eat as many fresh vegetables and fruit as possible until they're all gone, and we'll hurry to get the greenhouse on-line so we can at least have lettuce all year.

We'll watch videos we'd never watch at home just to see the scenery, just to see the different colors.

We'll get to know each other better than we know some of our own brothers and sisters: we'll tease, console, and support each other... 28 wondering souls under a tiny aluminum roof in the middle of the "coldest, highest, driest, windiest continent on Earth". Happy Valentine's Day! Katy McNitt

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