Golden team survives survival course
Through the haze the power plant, oil rigs and wind turbine vessels in Esbjerg harbour looked like a mirage. At low tide, the huge estuary was drained, but puddles remained, making the four kilometre walk through the sticky sand, seem like ten. Dressed in heavy orange survival suits, they were the lucky ones; their helicopter had crash-landed in the sea and they’d successfully made emergency exits. Now, carrying two large bags, they walked ashore hoping to find some solid ground and bed down for the night until they were rescued.
Geographically this was Ho, in western Denmark. Late May it was deserted, the first German holidaymakers yet to arrive, but for the seven man Anglo American Discovery team it was high summer some-where remote in western Greenland. Preparing for their summer expedi-tion, they had completed and gained certificates for HUET, helicopter underwater egress training, and had spent the morning jumping into the 12 degree open sea in boiler suits. Now they were faced with 24 hours in survival mode.
Dropped off by boats, the party took turns at the two heavy bags they carried across the sand. They should have contained cover and sustenance so that the team could
survive until help arrived. “Should have contained”, because the lead instructor Sonnich Bjerg Nielsen had ‘amended’ the bags to ensure that the focus would be on doublechecking things. Assumption is the mother of many a catastrophe and Sonnich had removed two tents to give the five geologists and their two Greenlandic field escorts something to think about. He’d also taken out one of the seven sleeping bags.
‘This exercise is basically about knowing exactly what is in the bag and how to use it,’ said Sonnich. ‘They won’t set-off without double- checking next time. The twoperson tents would mean a very cozy night if they couldn’t come up with a solution.
The Toggle Solution
The solution lay in what ‘wreckage’ there was from the helicopter. The Maersk Training instructors had brought along a life raft, for three of the party, with the pull of a toggle, their accommodation was suddenly up quicker than the two tents. The unlucky person to miss out on the sleeping bags would spend the night in a survival bag, wrapped up in foil like a turkey. He later reported to having slept and lost weight at the same time.
‘It’s not just a check list,’ said Sonnich. ‘The sleeping bags for instance raise questions they ought to consider. Three were of feather down and three of fiber. The down gives greater heat, but is not so weather resistant, if it gets wet, it is virtually useless. So you have to decide what’s best for where.’
Project leader Bill Stone explained why he, his two fellow Canadians, two Greenlandics, a Finn and a Dane were in a field usually
occupied by sheep, ‘we did training last year, but this year we decided to step up our game and what we are learning here is that we need to step up our game a little more. We are working in a remote Arctic environment so we have some ideas for what we will need for a programme next year.’
Bill was accompanied by two other Anglo American geologists, Graig Weston and Jussi Annanoli, along with Phd student Tim McIntyre who is going to us data from the target area for his thesis. The rest of the party was made up by Claus Østergaard, a consultant geologist from Xploration Services Greenland, a company that supports projects through backup and local knowledge. When they head to Nuuk and then via helicopter to the field, Angutitsiaq Jensen and Taatsiannguaq Olsen, known as Taatsi, will accompany them. Local guys, they operate as field escorts.
‘May I try hypothermia?’
They will stay in relatively normal surroundings with local fishing communities and then be flown out to the field each day. What the group is looking for will be indications of polmetallic magnatic deposits; that is combined nickel, copper, cobalt, ‘What we are doing is the first phases of field development and reconnaissance to see if we can figure out the geology and validate our current models, ‘ explained Bill.
The area was examined in the 1990’s, but time changes things relatively quickly. Not the geology, but the value, accessibility and uses 18 Rock Stars of the resources.
The three days in Denmark were crammed with vital survival skills and Taatsi and Claus proved the
true value of teamwork and devotion to the task ahead. They volunteered to lie in the not yet inviting Baltic waters until their body temperatures dropped to the point where hypothermia had started to set in.
Lifted out of the water and their wet clothes cut off for the sake of speed, they were wrapped in blankets, foil and tarpaulins until their body temperatures were restored to normal. Overall the seven proved themselves to be magnificent in pushing new boundaries.
Their field work will be a journey of exploration, but it started on a positive footing with personal discoveries over the three days in Esbjerg and on the Ho peninsula.