Q: Byrd seems to have been down there, he claims they never lost a man. But
it seems that at every turn they could have. I mean it was incredibly,
incredible luck that they survived. There were crevasses, there was frostbite,
people got lost. It was incredibly dangerous. And quite miraculous that
people didn't die there.|
ER: Antarctica is a very inhospitable place. I think it's something like
Mars, it's as close to another planet as we can get on earth. It's the driest
place on earth, the coldest, the windiest. There are no plants there, no
animals to live off of. It's desolate, desolate with a capital D, and
dangerous. Antarctica has killed men. They've fallen off mountains, fallen
into the sea and drown, froze to death, gone mad. It's a terrible place to
live. And yes, Byrd was very lucky. Certainly one of the great
accomplishments is the planning and the preparation that went into his
expeditions. He tried to make sure that he didn't lose a man, and he didn't.
But there's some luck to this. On the first expedition to Antarctica, the men
were unloaded the parts to the big Ford airplane that Byrd intended to fly to
the South Pole in, and the ice cracked as the big plane got on the ice, and the
floes teetered, the men were in danger of falling off the ice floe. But they
didn't, everyone survived, the plane survived. But later on, Byrd had one of
his two ships tied up to this vast ice cliff, that towered higher than the
ship. And suddenly part of the cliff collapsed, it collapsed right onto the
ship, and almost turned it over. The ship went way over, it's, it's keel
almost came out of the water. It was roped to the other ship so it didn't
quite go all the way, and then it, then it righted itself. Byrd could have
lost all that, many men. In fact, on that incident one man did wind up in the
water who couldn't swim. The water was much colder than water around here, and
you could freeze to death in minutes. So the man was either going to freeze to
death or, or drown. Byrd saw this and immediately plunged in after the man.
Byrd was personally a very brave man. And they rescued this man, Byrd and
others. Byrd never lost a man or even had anyone seriously injured, and
avoided any of the mental strains that caused others to go stir crazy during
Q: How much of a risk of frostbite and how much experience with frostbite
did these men have? They had to work outside in killer conditions. They were
off on expeditions in tents.
ER: Frostbite was a constant danger to Byrd's explorers, as it is today. You
have to be very careful down there. And the men on Byrd's expedition would
watch one another. As the subfreezing air struck your skin it tended to
freeze. And frostbite is nothing but frozen skin. And when it freezes it
forms a white patch. So men were constantly looking at each other's faces and
hands to see if they could detect white, white patches. And if your friend
said hey, you've got a white patch on your cheek then you'd go up and you'd
rub it and make sure you didn't get frostbitten. Otherwise gangrene would
follow, so it was a constant threat.
Q: And what about crevasses?
ER: Crevasses are a great danger in Antarctica in some areas. Wherever
there's land under ice and the ice has to flow over land it sometimes bends and
cracks. And that's what crevasses are. There was submerged land just south of
Byrd's base, and this formed big crevasses there. So the field parties, during
the summer had to cross over these crevasses. And you can do it, I mean ice
bridges over the crevasses and provided it's strong enough a dog team and a man
can go over it. But you're never quite sure whether it's going to hold up or
not. So they're very dangerous. At one point a sled did go into a crack. This
was on sea ice, when the sea ice started to crack up during the summer. And
Byrd's supplies were still on the ice and he had to get it to Little America.
And the ice started to crack and open. And sleds did start to fall down. And
men had to run out and help the drivers pull the sled back up. So yes, it was
very dangerous. Men were always living on the edge of death. And they had to
be very careful all the time. There's no doubt about it, Byrd was very lucky
that he didn't lose anybody.
Q: Why did these men put up with it? Do you think they got down there and
said, they're trapped? I mean it seems like such an ordeal to go through day
after day. I mean particularly out on the geological parties when they're
exposed outside for three months.
ER: It was a very tough life down there. Particularly the men on the field
parties, the geological parties who were out for three months driving dog
sleds. But don't forget, these were young men, adventurous. They don't think
about the details of how bad it's going to be. They think about the, the, how,
how good they'll seem to people back home. They'll think about the advancement
of their careers, they'll think about the sheer fun of it all. And they went
through hell but they were young and they could take it. They survived.
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