Several days ago, the expedition team lead by the famous polar explorer returned from Antarctica to Moscow.
It was for the first time in history that Russia helicopters reached the South Pole. The team ran up a Russia national flag at the Pole. Participation in the expedition of Nicholay Patrushev, Director of Russia FSS, was an intrigue. Arthur Chillingarov, Vice Speaker of the State Duma, tells about quite unusual New Year and Christmas holidays at the South Pole .
- Arthur Nocholayevich! How was the expedition contemplated? Which goals were faced by the participants?
- As you may know, UN, on Russia’s proposal, announced 2007 the International Polar Year (IPY). According to Vladimir Putin’s resolution, I was appointed the Special Representative of the President of Russia in IPY issues. Inspection visits to Arctic and Antarctic by top-ranking leaders of UN Member States have been included in the IPY programme. A US Senator has already visited Antarctic. The main goal of this mission is to advance the image of our country, and demonstrate unrivalled capabilities of our helicopters to the world.
- What was the mission’s route to the South Pole?
- Initially, we chose Ukraine-based Antey (AN-22) freighters to deliver us to South America. But Ukraine subsequently refused to participate. Therefore, we used only Russia-registered aircraft: Volga-Dnepr Ruslan freighters, AN-74 operated by Gazpromavia and two FSS MI-8 helicopters. MI-8 were equipped with advanced navigation equipment. They are capable to carry significant amount of fuel with 1,500km operational range. The helicopter crews had had extensive experience of operations in extreme conditions. Upon departing from Punta Arenas, Chile situated alongside the Straits of Magellan at the southern tip of South America, we overflew The Drake Passage and reached Bellinsgauzen, our Antarctic station. The expedition started on 25 December 2006, and ended on 13 January 2007.
- Who were the participants?
- Nichlay Patrushev, Director of FSS, Vladimir Pronichev, Deputy Director FSS, Head of the Border Guard Service, Alexander Bedritsky, Chairman of the Russia Hydrometeorology. Total about 20 participants. Foreign polar explorers did not believe our mission would be accomplished at all.
Few volunteered to celebrate the New Year other than in their cozy homes, i.e. on the South pole. All of the participants had taken vacation leave. Life and health risk was indeed very high. Overflying Antarctic in poor visibility was extremely dangerous. We covered about four thousand kilometers. We refueled the aircraft at Bellinsgauzen station, UK-owned Rotary station and Patriot Hills glacier. The flight was performed at 2,800m altitude. Flight crewmembers should be specially mentioned. Captains: Hero of Russia, Nicholay Gavrilov, Commander of FSS Air Forces, and Vladimir Avdeev, Flight Navigators: Pavel Zorin and Vladimir Pismenny. I just cannot imagine how they navigated in adverse weather of Antarctica. We also met with US polar explorers at Amundsen Scott station.
- Why Mr. Patrushev, our top counter intelligence officer, took part in the expedition ?
- We have had long cooperation with our border guards and FFS in Arctic, provided assistance in establishing new outpost on Franz Josef Land. Presence of FFS Chief in Antarctic was not a surprise to anyone. In fact, I filed the expedition team application a couple of months ago. I noted that Mr. Patrushev was impressed with what Americans had built there. They had established a new $4 million 60 thousand square meters station with an excellent laboratory. It can accommodate 220 personnel. They perform supply services with C-130 Hercules which takes off with wheeled, while lands with ski undercarriage.
While at Bellinsgauzen, we visited Christian Orthodox church founded by Pyotr Zadirov, a Russian explorer. The services are performed by local monks. They blessed us. Mr. Patrushev presented them with an icon. I think his participation was very important. This was a demonstration of our presence on the White Continent. His participation was also a political event: As a matter of fact, he is not only FFS Director, but also a member of Russia Security Council.
I would like to note that federal funds were not spent on the expedition. It was financed by private sponsors. Let us not forget the expedition also had advertising goals. Everybody were impressed with state-of the-art performance of MI-8 helicopter.
- Did Russia President congratulated you on successful completion of the expedition?
- Vladimir Putin sent us a welcome message, saying: “It was the first time in the history of Antarctica exploration that Russia MI-8 helicopters reached the South Pole and landed at the Earth’s south most point. With your mission, you once more demonstrated to the world the reliability of Russia-built aircraft and high proficiency of Russia pilots. And, what’s most important, proved that Russia has truly deserved its right to be called a Polar Power.”
(Komsomolskaya Pravda, 17 Jan 2007).