Landing on Blue Iced runway, Antarctica

 

In this age of modern air travel, it is relatively easy for anyone with the means to book a flight to almost any corner of the Earth. Unless that corner is Antarctica, a place where you cannot simply pave a runway and start landing planes.

 

Boarding the Russian cargo Ilyushin il-76 is like climbing into another world, a throw back to pre-cold war days. It’s an exhilarating experience knowing your that next foot on terra firma is going to be on the frozen continent. Our destination was Union Glacier and the famous “Blue-iced runway”. The airport is operated by a company called Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions (ALE), who provide expedition support and tours to the interior of Antarctica.

The runway is located approximately 5 miles from base camp (79.767° S and 82.867° W) and blue ice: dense, intensely blue glacier ice formed when snow falls onto glaciers gets compacted and recrystallizes. It only operates during the months of November to January when the weather is the least hostile. It is the only facility of its kind in Antarctica. It was certified by the Chilean Directorate General of Civil Aviation in December 2008.

I  have been very fortunate to have flown in and out of Union Glacier over the past six years and without doubt, the thrill does not wane.

Frozen in Time

It was one of those passing social media fads -The Mannequin Challenge – it was all the range in late 2016, even in the USA Presidential election, nominee Hilary Clinton posed in one.

So there I was, sitting down sipping my iced tea in Union Glacier camp in Antarctica, when I suggested to a bunch of hardened marathon runners that we should have a go and attempt to create our own Antarctic Mannequin Challenge – with my news head on, I suggested we could set the new World record for the Southern most challenge – after all we were only 600 miles from the South Pole and no other silly fools were going to do it.

Of course the athletes already had the advantage of being ‘frozen to a spot’ with temperatures hovering at around ¯20°C. Right on cue, the runners stood still and we managed to get it in one attempt!

On arriving back in London, the news editor at Reuters thought this was indeed newsworthy and the story was quickly out, making the news in bulletins around the globe. Strangely, it did as well as the main story I had gone to cover, that of the Antarctic Ice Marathon!

 

 

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