Sometimes when an aircraft crashes and can’t be repaired in situ, its location makes it too difficult to recover and is left to be a landmark for the ages. This has been the case for a Lockheed C-121 Constellation in Antarctica, abandoned after a crash landing in 1970. Named the Pegasus, let’s take a look at this one aircraft buried in the Antarctic.
A 10.5-hour flight from New Zealand
It was back on October 8th, 1970, when the Pegasus took its final flight. The aircraft, part of the United States Navy’s VX-6 Squadron, departed from Christchurch Airport (New Zealand) for a ten and a half flight hour to the Antarctic.
Onboard the aircraft were 80 people: 12 crew and 68 passengers. The crew of 12 included the commander, two co-pilots, and two navigators, two flight engineers, a radio operator, and two loadmasters.
The Lockheed C-121 Constellation (Connie) was headed to McMurdo Station when it encountered a fierce storm. Snow and ice blown about by strong winds made for almost zero-visibility conditions. Considering the remoteness of Antarctica’s location in the world, the Pegasus could not simply fly back to its origin or to a suitable airport outside of the distant continent, as there would not be enough fuel to do so.
Based on the memories of second navigator Robert O’Keefe, freelance writer Noel Gillespie retells the story, saying,
“Half an hour out from McMurdo, the weather had deteriorated, to zero visibility with an intense storm, which had enveloped the base. Low on fuel and no alternative airfield, Commander Greau was force to ‘crash land’ the aircraft. After making five attempts, he veered off to the right side of the ice runway and the “Connie” was destroyed without loss of life.” – Noel Gillespie via Radiocom.net
While Atlas Obscura notes that winds were so strong that parts of its exterior were blown off, there was no mention of this in the retelling of the story by the flight’s second navigator.
With a runway barely visible, the aircraft crash-landed, skidding along the icy surface. All four engines were put into full reverse while the right main gear hot a snowdrift. Hitting the snowdrift caused the aircraft to veer to the right, turning 210 degrees clockwise, sliding backwards to the right of the runway.
The main landing gear hit a large snowdrift and was twisted in the impact. It was sheared off “just below its pivot point inside the gear well.”
It has remained in this spot for over 50 years now, with the 51st year coming this October.
All 80 souls onboard survived
Considering the fierce weather conditions, it is an impressive and admirable achievement that all 80 people onboard the aircraft survived the crash without sustaining any major injuries.
“I can remember vividly that [the captain] had completely idled the engines and dived for the ice runway. We landed very hard but would probably have suffered little or no damaged had several frozen snow drifts not formed on the runway, while we were making our first approach.” – Robert O’Keefe, Second Navigator via Radiocom.net
With strong winds and extreme cold, passengers (many of whom were improperly dressed) stayed inside the aircraft. Despite the crash landing, the aircraft was deemed a low risk for fire considering the temperature. Recovery took a few hours due to limited visibility.
Nowadays, those visiting McMurdo Station might be able to visit the crash site, with the aircraft resting in place, half-covered in ice and snow.
The crash site and the ice runway were renamed Pegasus Field, after the aircraft. However, this field is no longer used as a blue ice runway as it closed in 2014 because of excess summer melt.
Did you know about the story of the Pegasus Lockheed Constellation in Antarctica? Let us know in the comments.