The task: to practise a search and rescue (SAR) response for an injured or ill expeditioner on Bechervaise Island, when ice conditions preclude the use of vehicles and travel on foot or by skis.
The team: Anne Waterhouse, Ben McKay, Craig Hilder, John Burgess.
The rescue craft: two inflatable kayaks lashed together, with a Ferno Washington stretcher secured to the cross bars.
Bechervaise Island lies two kilometres to the north of Mawson Station and has been a summer home for many years for Australian Antarctic Division scientists studying Adèlie penguins.
With two biologists (Helen Achurch and Judy Clarke) working on Beche this summer, and isolated from Mawson station for several weeks once travel on the sea ice had been closed, it is essential to have practised a SAR response in the event of an illness or injury.
On Monday 19 January the weather for the SAR exercise proved to be ideal: fine and sunny, with minimal wind after the morning katabatic had died away. All the required gear had been prepared the day before the exercise, so it was a simple matter of carrying everything to the edge of Horseshoe Harbour and kitting up in dry suits and PFDs. Under the dry suits we wore thermal and fleece layers, along with warm gloves on our hands. We also wore harnesses to attach our tow lines to.
Once underway, we made steady progress on relatively solid ice out past the tip of West Arm and across Kista Strait to Bechervaise Island. Initial apprehension amongst the team was quickly replaced by confidence in the simplicity and effectiveness of the system. On ice, the raft moved along easily. If we came to open water we could climb aboard and paddle and if somebody was to go through thinner ice they could easily extract themselves using the rescue craft.
Helen and Judy met us on the north eastern tip of the island and we walked with them to the Googies (accommodation modules) at the other end, laden with meat and fresh vegetables from hydroponics. We also delivered a present for Judy — it had been her birthday the day before. We shared a very pleasant lunch in the sunshine before walking back to the rescue craft and making the return crossing to station.
This was a valuable exercise in working together as a team and demonstrating the SAR capability of the rescue craft. It was also very enjoyable.