Monday, April 06, 2015

North Pole 2015: Barneo Ice Camp Opens for the Season, Aircraft Breaks Landing Gear on Runway

The 2015 North Pole season doesn't promise to be quite so active and interesting as years past, but there will still be some action up north this year, even if most if it will take place on the Russian side of the ice. Over the weekend, the Barneo Ice Camp opened for the season at N 89º 38', W 22º 27'. Over the course of the next few weeks, it will serve as the base of operations for a number of military, scientific, and commercial teams that are heading into the Arctic, and while most of those adventures still lie ahead, things have already gotten off to a shaky start.

For those who don't know much about Barneo, it is a temporary base built on an ice flow in the Arctic Ocean each year that facilitates travel to and from the North Pole. It is constructed by a special crew who first locates a proper flow, then parachutes onto the ice and sets up camp there. That group must build a runway that is long enough to allow Antonov AN-74 aircraft to land, and set up a small tent city to house the visitors that pass through. Most of them are scientists conducting research or well-heeled adventure travelers making a "last degree" ski expedition to the top of the world.

This year's Barneo base has been especially problematic to construct. The team had a hard time finding a large enough ice flow due to increased break-up of the pack ice. Instead, they ended up locating three flows that were moving in concert with one another, and built their facilities there. While this isn't the ideal approach, it will suffice for the three weeks or so that Barneo will remain open.

According to the official Barneo blog, one of the first planes to land there this year ran into some trouble. Apparently when the aircraft touched down, it destroyed its right rear landing gear, causing an accident at the base. Fortunately, no one was injured, and another plane is being scrambled to keep the flow of supplies, gear, and personnel moving in and out of the base. Repairing the aircraft will be a bit of a challenge however, and it is unclear yet what exactly will happen.

The first visitors to arrive at Barneo mostly consisted of North Pole last degree skiers. They set off on the route almost immediately and spent very little time at the camp. Others will be shuttling in over the next few days though, so things should get busy in the Arctic soon. No word yet on when explorer Thomas Ulrich will arrive however. He'll be flying directly to 90ºN and will start a ski expedition across the Arctic that will end on Ellesmere Island in Canada.

If you are wondering what it is like to land an airplane on a slab of ice floating int he Arctic Ocean, have a look at the video below. It was taken from the cockpit of the first aircraft to land at Barneo this season, and gives you and idea of what it is like to arrive there. To say it is a bit harrowing would certainly be downplaying it some.


1 comment:

BobR said...

Remember it well from the NORUK expedition of 2009. Made it to the Pole and back with dogs and no need to call for the helicopter! BobR.