This week we provide an update on the impact of a blizzard we named ‘Cyclone Conchita’ which swept through Mawson and we conducted a training station search exercise for a missing pesky expeditioner.

Our very own Cyclone Conchita

A few weeks ago Mawson station endured a 114 knot / 211km per hour storm for 24 hours. A few shipping containers strayed from their locations and a bit of debris blown about and notably our sea ice disappeared sadly (our thoughts are with the emperor penguins and where they are…). At the next good weather window we undertook a tour of three huts up on the plateau to see how they weathered the storm.

As we travelled the 20 kilometres to Henderson Hut, the plume of snow coming off the ridge indicated the winds were still strong. Hendo Hut is located in a relatively sheltered spot just off the side of the exposed saddle that you drive through for access. On arriving at the hut, we made the call that it was too windy to leave the vehicle (doors being ripped off = not worth it). So we decided that we could physically see the hut, but it would need another trip to verify its state.

So Rumdoodle Hut was next on route. Now Rumdoodle Hut is located in a basin and has provided many a good memory for many visitors. It’s the main hut used for field training, recreation trips and shelter for the runway preparation crews over many years. It’s relatively sheltered but also exposed to the winds buffeting the hut from all directions, and also situated on a moraine line (piles of rocks sitting on ice that is moving slowly).

From a distance out, the Rumdoodle Hut didn’t look right, and on arrival this was confirmed. My heart was heavy as we walked around it and looked at the devastation. Front door blown off its hinges, window shutters blown off hinges and windows smashed, the acrow props that hold up the deck had moved a few metres and were now on a considerable angle, which meant the decking was also skewed.

The inside looked like a cyclone had been through (which it kind of had). We took photos of this historic moment and retrieved the ‘hut book'. It was a very sad moment seeing Rumdoodle Hut in this state, I have run many a field training group here and its location for climbing and walking in the Framnes Mountains provides the best refuge on the plateau. It will be great to see it done back up and maybe moved to a flatter spot…

So we departed Rum Hut and headed the 11 kilometres onward to Fang Hut. Fang Hut is located in a lovely basin that also receives a bit of wind. The hut is low profile and looks to have her feet firmly embedded in the ground.

Fang Hut had weathered the storm extremely well, in fact she looks like she didn’t batter an eye lid! So we settled in for the night and listened to the wind steadily increase. The next day the wind didn’t ease and in fact just ramped up, so an extra day in Fang Hut was needed. The following morning we made preparations to the Hägglunds as the wind decreased enough to safely travel back to station.

Back at station, the state of Rumdoodle Hut was the topic of conversation for the days ahead – 'repair?', ‘re position?', ‘renovate?', ‘new hut!?', ‘RMIT van?'… The decision will be made eventually, but what we do know is that a replacement hut is needed for a key location that provides refuge in the Framnes Mountains.

Antarctica does unleash some amazing weather, very somber to be a part of the weather here and to remember that Mother Nature is to be respected and never to be underestimated.

Heidi, Field Training Officer

Here Kitty Kitty

This week our team practiced a station search training exercise to familiarise ourselves with station search zones and search techniques. These skills are needed in case an expeditioner is deemed to be missing from station.

In this training scenario our expeditioner ‘Kitty’ had not been seen around station for a while, had missed morning tea (Kitty never misses morning tea), failed to respond to several radio attempts, and then didn’t muster when the search and rescue alarm was activated on station. An 'Incident Management Team' was activated and a station search was triggered to find our missing expeditioner.

Operation Find Kitty was underway.

Our field training officer had strategically left some clues around the station. Kitty had left her radio behind in the waste treatment plant, had left a scarf in the red Pioneer (where she had stopped to take a selfie), then made her way to the site shed for a quick pit stop. When Kitty tried to open the site shed door, the door handle broke and she was trapped inside with no radio and no way to get out…

While this training exercise was searching for a rather mangy looking stuffed toy cat called Kitty, the team tackled the station search in a safe, systematic and professional way.

The station was briefed, then allocated into pairs to methodically search all vehicles and buildings in a designated search zone. The pairs practiced being suitably equipped for a station search, communicating their search progress back to the communications desk managed by Dr Mal, and searching for clues of where Kitty might have gone. The Incident Management Team practiced setting up an incident control point in the Red Shed and monitoring the station search progress.

Within a short time of being deployed, the yellow zone search team found the first clue, Kitty’s missing radio in the waste treatment plant. A short time later, the green zone search team found Kitty waiting patiently in the site office to be retrieved.

After a full station debrief, Operation Find Kitty was deemed to be a purrfect training exercise (thanks for the pun Eddie).