1992 Helicopter Crash

Ben Micou memorial cross
The memorial cross for AMS1 Ben Micou, one of the three people killed in the crash.
Photo by Elaine Hood, 4 November 2013, from the USAP Photo Library (link to original).

crash locationThe VXE-6 HH-1N helicopter was returning to McMurdo from Cape Bird in the early evening of 13 October 1992, when it became overdue as the weather deteriorated. LC-130 and helicopter searches were begun, as well as a ground search. Shortly before midnight, one of the search helicopters heard by radio from LCDR Ed Crews, the missing pilot, who reported the crash location (map at right). There were whiteout conditions with 20 to 30 feet visibility, but search teams reached the site just after midnight. They discovered that both Crews (age 39) and copilot LT John Seralles (age 28) were alive but injured...Crews had frostbite and shock, while Seralles had a broken leg and a broken pelvis. Both were suffering from hypothermia. The two New Zealand passengers Garth Varcoe and Terry Newport were dead, and crew chief AMS1 Ben Micou was missing. The search team found Micou's body at about 0430. The two injured had been flown back to McMurdo (from where they were quickly medevaced to Christchurch), but the bad weather prevented pickup of the SAR team and the bodies until 15 October.

It was learned that the aircraft, in whiteout conditions, had struck an icy slope above a 33-foot ice cliff. It then slid and rolled about 100 feet, and then dropped and spun until it hit rocks below. All three of the fatalities had been thrown from the helicopter as it slid toward the rocks.

Garth Varcoe (age 48, from Dunedin) was a 15-year veteran and the technical services officer of the NZ Antarctic program, while carpenter Terry Newport (age 31, from Nelson) was in his first season. The two had been preparing a hut at Cape Bird (presumably this one, which had been built the previous summer) (link from ADAM) (ADAM home page) for the upcoming season. Ben (Benjamin W.) Micou, age 35, from Michigan, had been with VXE-6 on this tour since 1990, although he'd first joined the squadron in 1977.

Photos of the fatalities:

Art Brown and Garth Varcoe
Garth Varcoe (right) with Art Brown. Photographer: David Harrowfield, ©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection, Image# ANZPC0132.38, Feb. 1990 (link to original photo).
Ben Micou
Ben Micou (photo source). This photo was originally grabbed from this video by Joe Hawkins. Two more photos of Ben from his brother Jay, also shared by Joe Hawkins: in dress uniform, and on leave.
Terry Newport
Terry Newport (photo source--Bob McKerrow). Photos courtesy Pauline Newport (his wife) and David Harrowfield.

the cross when newMemorial services were held for the three fatalities at Scott Base and McMurdo before the bodies were returned to the families. The wreckage was also recovered and laid out on the floor of the VMF for investigation. And memorials were soon created. The cross depicted at the top of this page was first erected just outside of the helicopter hanger, on the side opposite the helo pad, as seen at left (January 1995 photo by Joe Hawkins). This was in a high traffic area not conducive to reflection, but the Navy wanted it close to where he worked. When VXE-6 occupied the hangar, there were anchors there as well.

At Scott Base, a plaque for Garth Varcoe and Terry Newport, as well as the other two New Zealand program fatalities, was set up beneath the flagpole. The other two men on this plaque: Tom Couzens, who died on 19 November 1959 when the Sno-Cat he was driving fell into a 100 foot deep crevasse near Cape Selborne, about 175 miles SSE of Scott Base; and Jeremy Sykes, director of a NZ Film Unit team, died in a helicopter crash on 19 November 1969 on the slope of Mt. McLennan in the Taylor Valley. This crash also killed USARP geologist Tom Berg. More information about all four of the deaths can be found on this blog post by Bob McKerrow, who wintered at Vanda in 1970.

New Zealand fatalities
Above, the memorial plaque at Scott Base, photographed by Graham White, ©Antarctica New Zealand
Pictorial Collection, Image# K2500607SB50 Jan07-2 048.jpg, January 2007 (link to original photo).

The New Zealand program also erected a cross at the crash site:

memorial cross at the 1992 crash site

At left, the cross dedicated to the memory of Garth Varcoe and Terry Newport at the helicopter crash site. Photographer: Dave Palmer, ©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection, Image# ANZSC2283.21, 1999-2000 (link to original photo)
plaque for Terry Newport
A plaque on the cross, remembering Terry Newport. Photographer: Dave Palmer, ©Antarctica New Zealand Pictorial Collection, Image No. ANZSC2283.20, 1999-2000 (link to original photo)

More about the Ben Micou memorial cross...by 2000-01, new water and sewer lines had been installed within 2 feet of the original cross location. Mike Hush, who was the air transportation services supervisor, had worked with Ben Micou in VXE-6, and he led an effort to move the cross to a more appropriate place. With NSF approval, it was moved to its current location, a more inspiring spot behind the chapel, where it is seen in the photo at the top of this page. This January 2001 Antarctic Sun article describes the arrangements to move the memorial.

This crash was the last fatal USAP helicopter incident...but not the last program aircraft incident...most recently in January 2013, three men died when a Kenn Borek Twin Otter crashed en route from Pole to Mario Zuchelli Station in Terra Nova Bay.

Thanks for the assistance from Steve Dunbar, who was the SAR team leader. This was his second Antarctic season. Other sources include this 15 November 1992 Los Angeles Times article, this historical post from New Zealand History, and this March 1993 Antarctic Journal article.