Pilot fell down Antarctic crevasse that ‘went into infinity’

Updated September 22, 2017 16:58:35

A helicopter pilot who was on a job when his colleague fell into an Antarctic crevasse felt helpless upon learning the man had dropped into the icy crack, a coronial inquest has heard.

Pilot David Wood was rescued from the crevasse after he fell in January 2016, but later died of hypothermia at Australia’s Davis Base.

He had been working with his fellow pilot Paul Sutton on a routine fuel drop on the Western Ice Shelf.

Mr Sutton told the inquest the two pilots were returning to their helicopters after retrieving ropes, also known as long line, used to carry the fuel drums when he realised something was wrong.

“I turned around and could not see David,” he said.

Mr Sutton said he started to walk towards the aircraft, and about half way across he saw an opening in the snow.

“I could see just the long line going into the crevasse,” he said.

“I yelled out to him … I couldn’t hear a thing.

“I jumped into his helicopter and turned it off.”

Mr Sutton said when it was quieter he stood on the steps of the helicopter and called out to Mr Wood.

“I thought I heard him call out ‘get help’,” he said.

“It was very faint and I thought he was a long way down.

“I could just see a crack that looked like it went into infinity.”

Pilots had spotted deadly crevasse before

Mr Sutton flew back to the station to pick up a rescue team — and became emotional when quizzed about that decision.

“I just thought get help,” he said.

“I felt hopeless you know, I knew I couldn’t do anything.”

The inquest has heard that when the rescue team arrived Mr Wood was still responsive, and Mr Sutton and two others hauled on a rope to pull him out with the help of another rescuer inside the crevasse.

Mr Sutton said he could hear Mr Wood yelling in pain as he was brought to the surface.

Earlier Mr Sutton told the court the pair had flown to the site before, and seen a narrow crevasse when they were rolling fuel drums.

Mr Sutton said he asked Mr Wood if it was a concern, and whether the site should have been be further inland.

He said Mr Wood had told him “better the devil you know,” and that he had accepted the assessment at the time.

Mr Sutton was also quizzed by coroner Lorraine Walker about whether in hindsight he would have done anything differently.

He said no.

Questions were also raised about the clothes worn by pilots, as Mr Wood had only been wearing a polar fleece when he fell into the crevasse.

Mr Sutton said the pilots had to be careful not to wear bulky clothes which impeded their vision and were too hot in the cockpit, but did have to have their emergency clothing nearby.

Topics: courts-and-trials, law-crime-and-justice, antarctica, canberra-2600, act, australia

First posted September 22, 2017 16:19:10