Max Conrad at Pole....continued


up up and away??

Then it was time to head off for Punta Arenas. 23 January. Although the route plan on the postcard included a stop at Byrd, this would have required the skis, which Max had brought along but did not want to use. The preliminaries involved not one but multiple takeoffs, one of which is seen above. Conrad was practicing takeoffs with increasing fuel loads to see how much weight he could get away with for the long flight to South America, and at the same time experimenting with radar and his compass, which he'd need to rely upon for most of the trip. What happened next is best described in Max's words in a letter he wrote at Pole after the crash: "Well, we did not make it, but N123LF was the first civilian aircraft to land at the South Pole. Furthermore, N123LF made 3 takeoffs from the skiway at the pole, 1) weighing 5000 lbs. on wheels in 2500 ft. 2) weighing 5700 lbs. in less than 3500 ft., and 3) weighing 6400 lbs +/- in 5500 ft. Piper can be proud of that kind of performance."

The test flights were interrupted by ice fog, which later cleared away and left blue sky. Afterward, Max received word from the weather folks in McMurdo that flight conditions would be good if he left that evening. So he did. But the local ice fog had returned, making visiblilty poor. This low cloud cover can produce a whiteout condition in which one can't tell the difference between the sky and the snow surface. Max climbed out to 500' above the snow surface, but when he went to bank left and head for the Peninsula, he was closer to the snow that he thought. He tried to pull up, but his left propeller struck the snow surface. This of course caused severe vibration which threatened loss of control. He tried to turn and get back to the skiway, but instead he went across it. He then tried to bank right to avoid the antenna towers which he knew were ahead, but he ran out of altitude. At some point he caught the left wing tip, shearing off the fuel tank. He then crash landed, wheels up, full power, and actually with relatively little visible damage. And no injury to the pilot.

A few photos of the aircraft the day after the crash:

oops
cold
down at Pole
chill out
the tip off
props

The aircraft was not repairable; according to Max it would have required two new engines and propellers as well as a wing, as is obvious from the two photos below (from Bob Hutt). Max stayed around for a few days to deal with the rest of his philatelic postcards. He also had to cover the aircraft to protect it from the elements, and remove all of the electronic gear that he could, for insurance pruposes. He left Pole (in a VXE-6 LC-130) on 30 January.

easy now
bent prop

A couple of pictures of the aircraft after the winter, on 26 October:

drifty
917 NOT

Max did not try again. He went back to being a ferry pilot and went for a few more long-distance flight records. He died in 1979; the airport in his home town of Winona, Minnesota was named for him.

The story at Pole was not quite over; the aircraft had crashed about a mile from the station alongside the skiway, where it gradually became buried as seen above. During the 1971-72 summer it was dug up and moved close to the station, where Ron May, one of the Navy GCA crew, had his picture taken in what was left of the White Penguin.

let's not fly

Later in the summer the aircraft was reburied at the end of the original station skiway, where presumably it is today.

A side note on what might have happened--Walter Pederson showed up in Christchurch in January 1971 in a C-121 Super Constellation and a load of snowmobiles in an effort to recover Max's aircraft. The Pederson Expedition is another story...

Information references and sources (with thanks):

  • Ice Cap News,, American Society of Polar Philatelists, Vol. 14 (1969) p. 4 and 13; and Vol 15 (1970) p. 46 (the Vol. 14 p. 13 reference is published here on Dave Riley's Antarctic Newseum web site (slightly embellished)
  • Billy-Ace Baker (also source of 1968-69 postcard and McMurdo runway photo from DF-70 cruisebook)
  • Len Bourgeois, DF-70 VXE-6 flight crew member
  • Jaime R. Toro Anastassiou, who was supervisor of the refueling station at Chabunco Airport, Punta Arenas, and who provided the photos taken there in 1968
  • Into the Wind, the Story of Max Conrad, a biograpy by Sally Buegeleisen published in 1973
  • Bob Hutt, DF-70 Pole winterover Coast and Geodetic Survey researcher (also source of noted photos)
  • maxconrad.com, web site by Bill Kuhl (also source of record album cover and flight rosary sonnet)
  • Bob Little, DF-70 Pole winterover radioman (also photographer of color Pole photos except as noted, and source of black-and-white photos by Joseph Ryan and Roger Boyd)
  • Gary Wayne, DF-70 Pole w/o storekeeper (source of Pole photo with Herc in background)
  • Ron May, NSFA DF-71/72 flight controller (also source of his photo)
  • soloflights.org, web site by Claude Meunier
  • wingnet.org, web site by Carolyn Michel (also source of 1969-70 postcard)
  • Antarctic Journal of the United States, National Science Foundation, Vol. IV, No. 2, March-April 1969, p. 50 (also source of Palmer photo by Edward K. Mann); Vol. V, No. 2, March-April 1970, p. 40 (also source of U. S. Navy photo of McMurdo landing)
  • Antarctic, the journal of the New Zealand Antarctic Society, March, 1970, p. 378, 394.
  • Bill Talutis, DF-72 Pole winterover OIC
  • Kelly Welch, oral history interview by Laura Kissell, March 7, 2000, for the Byrd Polar Research Center at the Ohio State University

[NOTE: any other additions, photos, corrections or credits would be welcome --Bill (email)]

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