We could hear the plane, but could not see it through the fog that was quickly descending. When Steve had spoken to the pilot six minutes ago, we could see the six kilometers across Carl Ritter Bay, and the cloud ceiling was at 1200 feet. But now, it was dropping fast, and with it, our chances of the Twin Otter landing were fast diminishing. The plane flew overhead and then away. You could hear a pin drop as all of us keened our ears for the sound of the plane returning. Minutes passed. And we all thought, that was it. But then we heard the plane again, zooming by somewhere in the clouds off to our right. And then silence. Now we couldn’t see across the Bay. The clouds were maybe at 500 feet.
That is when Steve called the pilot a second time on our satellite phone. The pilots were trying hard. They knew our story, that we had been out for 33 days, that we had limited rations, and that we were standing there on the tundra in the snow and rain. We were stuck at 81 degrees North latitude, some of the most isolated people on the planet. They also knew that if they couldn’t land, we would still have to pay the $35,000 charter fee.
But still, there was no safe way to break through the clouds. The surrounding mountains were enveloped in fog.
Then, like magic, the plane appeared. A mere 300 feet above the ground it circled above us, looking for the airstrip, a flat spot on the tundra, just 900 feet long. And then the Twin Otter disappeared again. For five of the longest minutes in our lives, we waited in the freezing cold, wet, as the plane dipped in and out of the clouds, circling ever lower. 200 feet, 150 feet, 100 feet, 50 feet. Was the pilot going to land? And then, at the last possible moment, it did, using just 450 feet of the strip we had prepared earlier that week.
Now we are back in “civilization.” We’ve got four walls around us, and the rain outside is of no concern to us. We are safely ensconced at Atco’s Airport Inn in Resolute Bay, Canada. Our task now is to rest, and then, when enough time has passed to start the year long process of making a film about our adventures in the High Arctic sea ice.