Antarctic snowstorms are just another job hazard

By nathan.crombie@age.co.nz, Nathan Crombie


Working in below-zero temperatures during breaks in Antarctic snowstorms is a welcome challenge of a posting to the frozen continent for Staff Sergeant Deon McKenzie.

Sergeant McKenzie, who was raised in Masterton and attended Makoura College, told the Times-Age about his experience battling snowstorms and sub-zero conditions.

He was speaking by phone from McMurdo Station before returning to welding work after being forced to down tools when a snowstorm struck the area over the weekend.

Sergeant McKenzie, who joined the NZ Army in 1990, was posted to Antarctica a fortnight ago as part of a light engineering team of 17 personnel, who will run repair and maintenance missions at McMurdo Station and Scott Base.

Veterans at the station have been gobsmacked at the unseasonable heavy snowstorms through January, he said.

They had commented that more snow had fallen "in 24 hours than they've seen in a whole summer season".

"It's unusual for them but it's good for us because we get to experience it - so it's cool," he said.

The latest heavy dumping of snow came after a similar storm last week and he and a second welder had worked a tag team on their tasks since arriving a fortnight ago.

"The challenge we've got at the moment is that we do about 20 minutes worth of welding and then we change round for the other guy to try and get some feeling back into his fingers.

"And get his face out of the wind because the welding helmet just scoops up all the cold and swishes it around in there."

Two weeks ago a Canadian aircraft carrying three crew members on a flight from the South Pole failed to arrive at Terra Nova Bay.

The wreckage of the Twin Otter aircraft was discovered on Mt Elizabeth, firmly embedded in the snow, Antarctica New Zealand spokesman Graeme Ayres said.

The recovery of the bodies would happen during the next scientific season, which stretches from October through to late February.

Sergeant McKenzie and the Kiwi contingent had been given little detail about the incident though the thoughts of the entire team were with the families of the crew.

- WAIRARAPA TIMES-AGE

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