U.S. Antarctic Program Investigator Perishes in Snowmobile Accident

Most contractors and support staff have Sunday off (McM operates on a 6 day workweek) so Saturday evenings are usually a bit more relaxed in McM. We were having dinner in the galley when pagers started going off. The McMurdo Emergency Operations Center (EOC) was activated after receiving a call from the crevassed area south of White Island (~25 miles from McM), known as the Shear Zone.  We would later find out that a snowmobile with one passenger had gone into a crevasse, resulting in a fatal injury.  The news stunned everyone in town and is a stark reminder of how dangerous conditions can be out here. Below is the official statement from NSF (by NSF Media Contact Peter West).

October 23, 2016

U.S. Antarctic Program Investigator Perishes in Snowmobile Accident

A researcher with the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF), suffered a fatal injury on Saturday, October 22, New Zealand time.

Dr. Gordon Hamilton, University of Maine Climate Change Institute, Orono, Maine, was fatally injured when the snow machine he was riding went into a crevasse.  Hamilton’s team was camped in a heavily crevassed area known as the Shear Zone (SZ), approximately 25 miles south of McMurdo Station, the largest of the three U.S. research stations in Antarctica.

The McMurdo SZ is a 3 mile wide and more than 125 mile long swath of intensely crevassed ice where the Ross Ice Shelf meets the McMurdo Ice Shelf.  The ice is up to 650 feet thick in this area.  Dr. Hamilton’s body has been recovered and will be returned to his family in Maine. An accident investigation has begun by USAP personnel.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of the tragic death of Dr. Hamilton. Our thoughts are with the family and entire community as we mourn this loss” said Dr. France Córdova, Director, National Science Foundation.

Dr. Hamilton’s research utilized two robots that contained ground penetrating radar instruments to study the stability of the Ross and McMurdo Ice Shelves.

At the time of the accident, the science team was camped approximately 200 yards from the USAP’s South Pole Operations Traverse crevasse remediation team.  The two teams, science and Traverse operations, were working together to identify and remediate crevasses which had appeared in the past year.

The two teams included experienced personnel who had worked in this area over the past several years and all members of both teams had received crevasse and glacial safety training before going into the area. In addition, mountaineers, familiar and experienced with the SZ, were with each of the two teams. Crevasses had been identified and filled earlier in the week and work on a newly identified crevasse was beginning at the time of the accident.

The NSF manages the USAP, through which it coordinates all U.S. research and the necessary logistical support on the continent and aboard ships in the Southern Ocean.