Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The airport hangar and Mr Wilkins

The airport hangar at whalers bay on Deception Island reminds of the early days of flight pioneers who also tried Antarctica and used Deception Island as a base. However, in those days the hangar was not yet there.

The Australian flight pioneer Sir Hubert Wilkins made the first flight over Antarctica in 1928. However, this was not the first attempt. In 1920, Sir Hubert Wilkins took part in a misfortuned expedition to the Antarctics.
The expedition was organized by a guy called John Cope. Originally it was supposed to use planes, but Mr Cope wasted the expedition money, so only four people went on a whaling boat from Montevideo to the Antarctic peninsula and spent the summer camping in the midst of a penguin rookery on Graham land, i.e. the Antarctic Peninsula.

At the end of summer, Wilkins, Cope and a Mr. Lester left the forth expedition member, Mr Bagshawe behind and went on in a little sailing boat to find a whaling ship to take them home.

The first whaling ship they found, agreed to take them. However, since Cope had had a dispute with the captain on their arrival in Antarctica, he would have to spend the journey back in the crews quarters. Therefore, against the advice of the captain since a storm was coming up, the three men left and looked for another ship!

They hit a reef and almost lost their little boat. When they were just about to crash against a glacier front in the howling storm, the motor launch of another whaling ship found and rescued them.
However, when the whalers wanted to pick up the forth man, Cope succeeded in convincing the two young men Lester and Bagshawe to stay camped in Antarctica during the winter while he would return to England to raise more money to continue the expedition. Thus Wilkins and Cope returned to the Falkland Islands and left the two men behind.

Cope not only failed to raise any money, he also never returned. However, when the whalers came back the following spring, the two young men Bagshawe and Lester had enjoyed themselves so much camping alone in the middle of their penguin rookery that they did not want to leave.
They stayed another summer and only then returned to civilization.

Although this "expedition" did not have any scientific success, it was the first time that two men spent more than an entire year camped in the middle of the Antarctic ice, storm and winter night.
When Wilkins came back in 1928, there was not enough ice in Foster's port to support a starting plane. Actually one of the planes broke through the ice and only could be rescued with a lot of trouble. The men tried to fit pontoons, but there were so many curious sea birds being caught in the propeller of the starting plane that Wilkins abandoned the idea of starting from the water. There was also not enough snow to use ski's, therefore they had to built half a mile of a landing strip from the scratch. End of November Wilkins and his companion Eielson left in a Lockheed Vega at 8.30 am, flew 1300 miles and returned in the evening just in time before a storm. They had a bath, got dressed and were in time for there usual 8 o'clock dinner.
Today the hangar is filled with ice. Until recently, the remainders of a little plane - a twin otter - were standing outside the abandoned hangar at the former airport. However, it was removed because one was afraid that it would be STOLEN.

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