Antarctic adventurers on way home

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, November 24, 1999

From staff reports

Four local adventurers made it to Antarctica and are now on their way back home on a plane trip that is being followed by teachers and students via the Internet.

Wednesday, November 24, 1999

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Four local adventurers made it to Antarctica and are now on their way back home on a plane trip that is being followed by teachers and students via the Internet.

In doing so, the four also claim a world speed record.

Jim and Maryalice Hanson of Clarks Grove and ”Buzz” and Betty Kaplan of Owatonna left Owatonna Nov. 1 for a seven week, 17,000-mile trip that has taken them through the Caribbean, Central and South America and to Antarctica.

On Saturday, the four flew 790 miles from the tip of South America to an Argentine scientific station in Antarctica in just over four and a half hours. When approved by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, this dangerous portion of their flight will be a world record speed over a recognized course.

But it was just one part of the adventure.

Co-pilot Jim Hanson, manager of Albert Lea Airport, said the group’s single-engine Cessna Caravan got stuck on a muddy runway in Antarctica, and a dozen people from the scientific base had to help push the plane out. The team left Antarctica at 3 a.m. to take advantage of the ice-hardened runway.

”We were exhilarated to have made it to Antarctica and back!” Maryalice Hanson wrote Sunday in her teacher’s journal on the Web.

The group hopes to return to Owatonna Dec. 19.

The Friendship Flight’s Web site is updated three times a week with photos and journal entries and includes curriculum ideas for teachers and challenges for students. The site’s sponsors include the Minnesota Department of Transportation’s office of aeronautics and the Heritage Halls Museum of Owatonna.

The flight can be followed online at or through

The following are excerpts from Maryalice Hanson’s journal upon arrival at Antarctica Nov. 20.

&uot;Suddenly, at 10 a.m., all our plans were changed. We were to go to Antarctica today! …

&uot;We went through the metal detector and had our passports checked. It was extremely windy, 30 knots, with a good crosswind. We had difficulty lifting off, but were finally airborne. (I don’t need to ever do a takeoff like that again!) It took us 15 minutes to reach 4000′, and we were back over the airport!&uot;

It was very rough from the wind spilling over the mountains. As we flew up the Channel, we glimpsed a glacier far ahead. They take tour boats up there to get close to it.

&uot;We flew initially at 11,000 feet, with step climbs to 17,000′, and the pilots put on oxygen masks.They certainly looked &uot;alien&uot;.

&uot;Betty and I dozed off and on. When we made trips to the back of the plane for something, we came back and had to rest to catch our breath. It felt like you had been walking many flights of stairs.

&uot;Our airspeed was 167 knots, and our groundspeed was over 180 knots at times. There was ice that formed on the struts and wings of the plane and on the floats. We had to stay out of the ice, because there is no way to de-ice the floats of a seaplane, and there would be no airports to land at for hundreds of miles. With the heavy load of fuel, the airplane wouldn’t have climbed much higher. It was a tense two hours, until the clouds broke and we could descend to non-oxygen altitudes.

&uot;One of the problems with lack of oxygen is that it is insidious, that is, it creeps up on you-you never know that your thinking is impaired. You think that everything is going great-even when it isn’t. This is called hypoxia (look it up in the encyclopedia).

&uot;As we came closer to Antarctica, there was a chain of icebergs stretching for several miles (at about 61 degrees South-check it on a globe).

&uot;The icebergs were huge, and were pure white, with aquamarine blue color under the water. We could &uot;paint&uot; land ahead on the radar, and at 62 degrees south, we came upon King George Island (Isla Rey Jorge in Spanish). We were officially in Antarctica! The islands were mountains that stuck up through snow. This is spring in the Antarctic, and there were many places where the rock was exposed. Oxygen masks were taken off as we came out of 13,000 feet. Most of the icebergs were flat, they looked like you could land an airplane on them. Some are more than 2 miles long and 200 meters high! As we flew over some bays, you could see the light bright blue of the iceberg below the water line. It was a beautiful sight!

&uot;We headed for Base Marambio, Antarctica, a base for the Navy. (Antarctica belongs to the world, not one country. Therefore many countries have a &uot;piece&uot; of the land mass for scientific research. Can you find a map of Antarctica that shows the different countries?) Base Marambio is not on the tourist stops! We had received special permission to land here. We originally thought we would tent here, but were graciously offered rooms, food, gas, and a hangar for the airplane.

&uot;You could almost miss the Base as you fly by if not for the bright orange buildings (which helps you find them when buried in the snow). The Base is perched on top of a mountain, 760′ above the ocean. It is also located on the edge of the island so supply ships (icebreakers) can get in to bring supplies in the summer. The runway has been made on one side and was 4134′ long. When the runway stopped, so does the mountain. There was no &uot;extra room&uot;. The buildings were perched on rocks on the other side of the runway. … &uot;the weather had been unusually warm. Therefore, the dirt runway had tire tracks indented in it. It was starting to harden as the temperature dropped.

&uot;After fueling, a large tractor attached a cable to the mooring cleats on the front of the floats. The mud was so deep that the bottom of the floats and the brakes dragged in it.


&uot;After lightly dozing for only an hour or two, we were up at 3 a.m. Jim walked out to the runway to see if it was hard or soft-it was frozen solid. We packed and headed to the hangar, traveling by four-wheel drive again.

&uot;There were quite a few men there to help push the airplane out of the hangar and down the incline. Then we got into the plane and &uot;motored&uot; down to the runway-and got stuck! …

&uot;We lifted off at 5:27 a.m. There was very little wind to help us lift off. It took most of the runway to lift. Then it was a struggle to gain altitude. It was not a takeoff I want to do again. We finally reached 12,000′ and were between two layers of clouds for most of the flight, picking up a little ice, which caused some concern.&uot;