not everyone walked away
(Photo from the 1999 VXE-6 decom CD)

Heroic Corpsman saves lives on the "Ice"

Story by JO2 David Melancon

When U.S. Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Barney Card woke up Wednesday, Dec. 9, it was just like any other day at his small Antarctic field camp. He had no idea that he was about to become a hero.

At 8:30 that morning, a National Science Foundation LC-130 Hercules airplane, operated by a U.S. Navy crew from VXE-6, was on a routine resupply flight from McMurdo Station. It crashed while attempting to land near Card's isolated outpost 750 miles northwest of McMurdo Station.

Heroism didn't even cross Card's mind when he heard the shouts of "crash!" He grabbed his parka and gloves and jumped on a snowmobile to get down to the landing strip. All that could be seen was smoke and twisted metal. With two Navy civilians from the camp, Brad Honeycutt and Johnny Howard, Card ran to the cockpit of the plane.

The three searched for a way into the plane.

In the cockpit, the trapped crew members were also looking for a way out. There was no time to waste–fuel was leaking into the cockpit and electrical power could ignite it. The rescuers found a small hole in the cockpit fuselage, enlarged it, then one by one, the victims were carefully pulled out. Fires from JP-5 aircraft fuel burned all around the wreckage. The danger of explosion made the extrication harrowing.

"I was scared," said Card. "I knew that it could blow at any minute and I just wanted to get everyone away from the plane."

"One of the first people I remember seeing was Card," said one survivor. "He literally gave me the shirt off his back--he also gave me his parka and gloves, and continued to work in just his thermal undershirt." After all the victims were removed from the wreckage, they were loaded onto sleds for the mile-long trek to shelter.

The sleds were only 15 feet from the wreckage when the first of several explosions rocked the aircraft.

Back at the camp, Card used the barracks tent as a makeshift emergency room. "I assigned a person from camp to each one of the victims–to sit with them," said Card. "They kept an eye on them and let me know what was going on, and I could move from one to another."

"Petty Officer Card was evaluating injuries, trying to figure out who was the most serious and get them stabilized," said one survivor."He would hover around one person, find the extent of his injuries–do the minimum he needed to, then move on to the next person. The guy was just superb. He was like the calm in the eye of the storm."

While Card was administering emergency care, a medical evacuation flight with a surgeon and other corpsmen had been launched from McMurdo Station. Constant radio contact was kept during the operation between Card and McMurdo medical personnel.

Because of bad weather, it was approximately eight hours before the rescue flight arrived.

Two VXE-6 personnel had been killed instantly in the crash. Nine injured personnel were returned to McMurdo for evaluation. Four survivors were sent to New Zealand for further treatment.

"This was a situation that would have tasked a hospital emergency room," said Lt. David S. Kermode, a Navy doctor who cared for the survivors in McMurdo. "Card had nine cases–four of them serious. One would have died without him. He really kept his wits about him."

"The job was incredible," said Robert Johnson, a corpsman who was on the medevac flight. "We got there to find a really professional set-up. He is definitely a hero."

"I don't know if 'hero' can be used," said Card. "Everyone had a part in this–I can't say enough for the help given by the doctors and everyone involved. I've never seen a group mesh and work together as we did here at the McMurdo dispensary. I won't deny we all did a heck of a good job, but we're not heroes."

"All I can say is, that if I had been in that situation," said Johnson, "I hope that I would have acted like Barney Card."

[This account was published in the June 1988 report "Safety in Antarctica," which was prepared for the National Science Foundation by the U. S. Antarctic Program Safety Review Panel. The panel was chaired by former astronaut Russell L. ("Rusty") Schweickart.]