|PETER CALAMAI PHOTO|
|Fresh supplies are hoisted aboard the Amundsen icebreaker after being ferried by snowmobiles from a shuttle of small planes landing on an airstrip prepared on the ice.|
ABOARD CCGS AMUNDSEN–When the nearest store is a 90-minute flight away, it can be a big job ensuring that the cupboards don’t become bare.
In an impressive display of logistics an entire tractor-trailer of vital supplies was airlifted here today from Inuvik, which is a 90-minute flight each way across the frozen vastness of the Arctic Ocean.
Call it the Nelson Head Airlift, echoing the famous Berlin Airlift of 1948-49.
A grey smudge on the horizon, Nelson Head is the closest point of land to where the Canadian Coast Guard icebreaker Amundsen is frozen into the western Arctic ice south of Banks Island.
The low cliffs are the first break in expanse of white and snow for the pilots from Aklak Air in Inuvik who ferried much-needed supplies to the Amundsen, the first major resupply since the ship left Quebec in July on an Arctic scientific odyssey that will last until the fall of 2009.
These supplies had started their journey in Quebec, loaded onto a semi which drove to Inuvik. Then the boxes had to be hand-loaded on and off the small twin-engine planes like the DeHavilland Twin Otter, a famed workhorse, and the newer Bandeirante from Brazil’s Embraer.
Once the laden planes arrived at the landing strips groomed from the ice here, a shuttle of snowmobiles pulling sleds whisked through minus 40C air (with the wind chill) to bring the supplies alongside the ship where they were winched aboard.
Every few hours the ship’s public address system would blare with calls for volunteers to help in unloading stacks of boxes, containing everything from engine room essentials to canned goods. Human chain gangs shifted the supplies down flights of stairs from the outside deck.
The airlift had already transferred 150 crew and scientists on and off the Amundsen on Friday, plus about 5,000 pounds of scientific equipment that arrived on a charter flight.
Today another 20,000 pounds was safely and efficiently brought on board.
The astonishing aspect for any homeowner who has an garage, attic and basement stuffed with surplus junk is that those boxes have already mostly disappeared, their contents cunningly stowed away in the nooks and crannies of a vessel that is only 98 metres long from bow to stern.
The contents of a few more cartons may well disappear tonight, one of three nights a week when the ship’s small bar opens for a few hours.