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Suddenly he was in free fall

Witold Kaszkin is almost saved from the narrow crevasse. FOTO: Christian Svarstad/Sysselmannen

Witold was running around to stay warm

Suddenly he was in free fall

Witold Kaszkin, 42, considers himself lucky to have survived a dramatic fall 25 meters down a narrow crevasse.



09.01.2015 kl 13:19

"I have pain in every limb and every muscle," Kaszkin said a day after the incident Monday afternoon on a glacier at Hornsund. "But nothing is broken and I'm already starting to work a little with lighter duties at the station."

Routine work
A meteorologist and information technology specialist, Kaszkin is one of ten scientists who overwinter at the Polish Polar Station at Hornsund. This is his fourth winter and on Monday he was doing things he has done hundreds of times before. Together with colleague Krysztof Gradiek he went out to do the weekly readings on measuring equipment the scientists have on Hansbreen.

"We have measuring equipment in many places on the glacier and the job at each point takes about 30 minutes," Kaszkin said.

If only…
Because of a lack of snow, researchers at Hornsund this year are using skis instead snowmobiles to roam around the terrain with the measuring equipment. Such was the case Monday and during the second-to-last measurement the 42-year-old started getting a little cold.

"I did what I usually do when I'm cold," he said. "I took off my skis and ran around a bit. I jumped and bounced a little, and flailed my arms to get some heat in my body."

Little did he know then that it would take many hours before he got warm again. He would actually be very, very cold before that happened. 

'Free fall'
During the short run around on the glacier, Kaszkin suddenly went through the substrate.

"I was suddenly in free fall and it quickly became very difficult to orient myself," he said. "I stopped after a few seconds, after an estimated a drop of 20 meters, and then I didn't have a grip. It was so cramped that my body had gotten wedged between the layers of ice. I hung and could not move a millimeter."

When he collected himself, he observed that his body seemed to be in relatively good condition and nothing seemed to be broken. But it was a mental strain.

"I shouted up to Krysztof and made contact immediately," Kaszkin said. "So I had to work with myself a bit to avoid panic. It took a bit out of me mentally. But much had gone well, after all, and I knew I was going to be rescued. So I concentrated on that and got my composure back."

The 42-year-old took an ice ax lowered by Gradiek and tried to chip a bit more space between the ice layers. But it was in vain since there was no room to chop. The ax finally fell down into the crevice."

A long time

Gradiek tried to pull up her colleague using a rope, but it was not possible. In addition to his weight, Kaszkin was wedged into the crack. The first thing they thought of next was getting help from the research station about five kilometers away.

"But I soon realized that it was going to be very, very cold if I was going to wait for the people from the station to get here," he said. "That being the case, it was quicker to ask the governor for help."

The station called the governor's office at 3:18 p.m., having been notified about the incident, and a helicopter with two police chief inspectors, three people from the glacier rescue group with the Longyearbyen Red Cross and a doctor from Longyearbyen Hospital were soon in the air. They arrived at 4:50 p.m. and extracted Kaszkin from the crevasse at about 6:10 p.m.

"It was so cramped in the crack," Kaszkin said. "I'm thinking now that it is lucky that the governor's rescue people are so thin."

His body temperature had dropped to 34.9 degrees Celsius (from the norm of 37 degrees) and after being flown back to Hornsund he spent a few hours in heated wraps before it returned to normal.

Not intimidated
This is the most dramatic event the 42-year-old researcher said he has experienced during his winters in Svalbard. But the fall into the deep and very narrow crevasse has not frightened him.

"I was never afraid for my life," he said. "There I did not have to be, although my heart jumped sharply in my chest during the fall and the first minutes in the crack. I'm glad that I had good clothes and equipment, and so I am pleased with the effort the rescue folks made."

Will he be more careful on glaciers the next time?

"Maybe," Kaszkin said. "But I do not think I will do so much different. I've been at that same place for years without something like that happening. And we're simply going to have to take off our skis occasionally, both to work and to jump around a bit and keep warm."

Translated by Mark Sabbatini


Se bildet større

Meteorologist Witold Kaszkin taking a selfie with the glacier Hansbreen in the background. The picture is taken last year. FOTO: Private

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