Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Two Disagree Below Zero.

An Antarctic worker was a victim of a Christmas brawl on Saturday December 29, 2007.

Fighting is not unknown in the harsh conditions of Antarctica.
A man has been sacked after a Christmas Day bar fight at the South Pole left a colleague with a broken jaw and sparked an $110,000 emergency flight to Christchurch Hospital.

But what happens in Antarctica apparently stays in Antarctica, with officials refusing to be drawn on whether cabin fever or alcohol sparked the brawl.

The two men, however, were unlikely to be scientists, as they were employed by Raytheon Polar Services, which provides the United States-run research stations in Antarctica with support personnel, ranging from cleaners to mechanics.

But the South Pole slugfest is not the first. A reported midwinter bar fight in April 2001 forced a Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules to make a dangerous 15-hour flight to Antarctica to pick up sick and injured people, including one evacuee with a black eye and broken facial bones.

At the time, it was understood that frosty relationships and a dose of cabin fever may have contributed to the evacuation.

The Christmas fight took place at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, which houses up to 150 people during the summer season.

"There was an altercation between two people ... there's no indication of the cause or of the background between the two folks," said US National Science Foundation spokesman Peter West.

Dr Karl Erb, head of the US Antarctic programme, said the man had been sacked.

"The assailant has been removed from Antarctica and his contract terminated by his employer. Such behaviour has no place whatsoever in the US Antarctic programme."

Mr West said the injured person had been flown to the larger McMurdo Station - near New Zealand's Scott Base - for treatment.

Medical staff at McMurdo assessed the man's injury to be more serious than they could treat, and he was flown to Christchurch - accompanied by a flight nurse and paramedic - on board a US Air Force Hercules.
Mr West said the incremental cost of the medivac was approximately US$85,000 ($110,000) including fuel costs and reimbursement for flight hours.

"The additional costs were incurred because the medivac was required during a period of normally reduced flight activity - specifically the Christmas holiday.

"The injured party is, to my knowledge, still in Christchurch and is recuperating after being treated."

A Christchurch Hospital spokeswoman said a man was admitted on Christmas Day, and was discharged on Boxing Day.

Mr West would not be drawn on whether cabin fever or alcohol were factors in the fight.

Raytheon public relations manager Val Carroll said she knew nothing of the circumstances which caused the fight.

An investigation will be conducted, she said.

Graham White, North Island vice-president of the NZ Antarctic Society, said cabin fever was unlikely during the summer season.

"The situation socially is no different to anywhere else. What can happen socially on the ice probably reflects normal life really.

"Living down there is geared to make you feel as much at home as possible."

But the winter season, with its 24 hours of total darkness, is something else.

"They've definitely done studies of people deprived of light for those periods of time. Small problems can become bigger problems than what they would normally be."

Chris Knight, a mechanic who was last down in 2001-02, told the Herald in 2004 that there was "a bit of macho" in the winter.

"You just sort it out amongst yourselves."

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