(Newsdesk) With 20 years of adventure, Polar mentor Dixie Dansercoer, took it upon him to examen the limitations in polar equipment and training to save lives after the death of his two friends, Marc Cornelissen and Philip de Roo.
In Part 1, Dixie explained about testing the drysuit that is used on the Arctic Oceans ice and examined the integration of the suit and skis. Today he looks at flotation and how the sled can be a problem when someone falls in the water, or how someone can get out of the water into the sled.
Figure 8: Drysuits are filled with air. Thanks to this air, if the person falls through thin ice, he/she can float for a couple of hours. But initially the drysuit is not a floating device.
Figure 9: Old and new life vest. The new ones are much smaller and more lightweight than the original ones.
Figure 10: Opening new life vest.
Initial flotation with the drysuit (with air that sits between the many layers of clothing) will be pressed out in a relatively short time especially when the lower body is pushed under the water. Eventually - on average after 5 minutes – the pressure of the water against the suit makes for direct impact of the water’s temperature onto compressed clothing. Thus, the initial feeling of comfort quickly disappears.
Therefore, if self-rescue is no longer possible,
- flotation on the back (cfr life vest with manual inflation using air can be used multiple times),
- pressurized gas (one-time use, likely to be more beneficial in a real emergency),
- a combination of both where the pressurized gas is used as a last resort might be the best solution. This is advised as the trapped air will remain in the suit longer in this position compared to trying to ‘stand upright’,
- the connection of the hood of the suit and the head of the person can be better. This is the opening through which the air leaves the suit (see above).
3.1 Life vest
Life vests deprive the person in the water of vision and movement, but can save a someone who is in shock or panic in case of automatic inflation. The automatic inflation most life vests offer should be bypassed with manual inflation or even more simple inflation by the mouthpiece only (important for when dragged under the ice).
- A significant problem with automatic inflation is the unreliable time interval in which they inflate (cfr video [Ed what video??]). Once the person is in the water, it might take a certain amount of seconds (varying between 4 to 12 seconds) to inflate.
- When the person is dragged under the ice, inflation is likely to result in a more life-threatening situation rather than a life-saving situation. Therefore the system should have a self-control option.
- The expansion gas used should be adapted for very cold temperatures. Most of the gases could be frozen or not functioning in severe cold circumstances.
4.1 Sled release
Figures 11(a), 11(b) and (11c): The polar explorer pulls the sled. If, for one or other reason, the sled needs to be disconnected from the polar explorer, a kite-surfing system is used.
Figure12: Kite surfing system.
A quick-release for the sled is useful if you do not want to be attached to your sled anymore to improve freedom of movement.
Problems to solve:
The rope from the person to the sled must be disconnected by one quick move.
The system - adopted from and proven by trial and error for kite-surfing - is very simple to use and fool-proof. Watch out for freezing temperatures. The cold might block the system.
4.2 Throw bag
Figure 13: A floating rope with a piece of weight attached to it.
A typical, commercial throw bag is useful to throw to someone in distress but the person cannot be too far away, 10 to 15 meters max. If you want to ‘bridge’ an area of open water or lead when a person is on the other side to catch the rope you throw, you need thinner polypropylene rope (most other ropes DO NOT FLOAT). With a small, yet heavy plastic ball that floats one can throw the thin rope up to 25 m far. Take into account the wind forces.
In my humble opinion, I think Mark and Philip made a mistake by the rescuer leaving the safety of the stable ice (we do not know if they had safety equipment was available in the sled remaining on the ice).
4.3 Climbing on the sledge
Figures 14 and 15.
Climbing from the water onto the sled is not easy as a single sled does not offer enough flotation to be safe, especially since you simply capsize because of the round hull. The only real safe way to deal with thin ice is to attach TWO medium or large sleds/kayaks one to the other rigging skis across to make a steady and safe ‘catamaran’. Smaller sleds are inadequate.
Problem to solve:
Is it better to climb on the sled with the skis on and then take them off? Or does a person first take off the skis and then climb on the sled?
- Depends on the situation.
Dixie Dansercoer is a veteran Belgian polar explorer with North Pole and South Pole crossings and Antarctica and Greenland circular routes in the bag among other expeditions.
Previous: Part 1
Next: Part 3
Previous about Dixie Dansercoer
A practical polar handbook by Dixie Dansercoer
Young Gun And Old Rat Drawing A Zen Circle Glacial Roundabout
Antarctica: Dixie Dansercoer and Sam Deltour bag kiting world record
Previous about Marc and Philip
Marc Cornelissen identified, Philip de Roo remains missing
Marc and Philip update: Recovery team set off
Polar tragedy witness rescued
Arctic Polar skiers presumably drowned; search discontinued - updated (2)
Polar skiers missing on the Arctic Ice