With adverse weather, including at least one blizzard, preventing its scheduled re-supply, the Catlin Arctic Survey expedition on the Arctic Ocean sea ice has slashed food rations by more than 80 percent. On normal sledging days, the team members consume 6,000 calories. Until a re-supply is successfully completed, they are taking in 1,000 calories a day each.
Huddled in their tent beside the makeshift landing site for the Borek Air resupply plane, the Catlin team of Pen Hadow, Martin Hartley, and Ann Daniels improved the landing site with hand tools such as they could before being forced to take cover by the conditions.
Although the re-supply was scheduled for last Saturday, the weather has not let up long enough for the trip to be attempted. The Catlin Operations Center in London has determined that today, Wednesday, is the best hope for the landing of the ski-equipped Twin Otter aircraft, although the anticipated twelve-hour window of safe flying may suddenly close down, as happens frequently in the region.
“This is a frustrating [time] for the team,” said a statement on the expedition website. If the atmosphere does not permit the trip on Wednesday, that would be bad news for the explorers indeed, as forecasters see a new storm making its way north and promising to preclude any attempts on Thursday or Friday.
Meanwhile, how long the team remains on the ice it was sent to measure remains a point of some uncertainty. Rod Macrae, Catlin director of communications, has stated that May 25 was the cut-off date agreed upon with Kenn Borek Air, the company servicing the expedition.
Sean Loutitt, vice president of operations for Borek, said in a phone interview Tuesday that safe removal after April 30 could not be guaranteed, due to deteriorating ice conditions this time of year.
Loutitt was careful to mention that there is no risk of starvation for Hadow, Martin, and Daniels. “The bottom line is that we will do whatever is necessary to make sure that nobody starves to death,” he said. “We can airdrop food, that’s fairly easy.”
Pen Hadow, the expedition leader, and Borek Air have prior experience with each other at the North Pole, in 2003. At the time, Borek’s pilots were none too pleased with Hadow’s choices. Borek’s Steve Penikett said then, “No one should expect to be picked up from there later than 30 April … Going to the Pole this time of the year is a bit stupid and you put a lot of people’s lives at risk.”
This go around, Loutitt re-enforced the sense of conflicting agendas, by stating both that the final determination would be made by Borek pilots and that it would be made by Catlin. “It’s completely up to Catlin whether they remove the people or not,” he said.