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Annagry man heads for Antarctia as Communications manager

Danny McFadden.
By Harry Walsh

NEXT month a Donegal man will take up employment as Communications Manager for Rothera, the main British Antarctic Survey (BAS) research station in Antarctica.

Danny McFadden (33) from Calhame, Annagry, expects to make the final stage of his 36-hour journey to the South Pole, perched in the cockpit of a small propeller plane.

As the plane descends towards Rothera Point on Adelaide Island, Danny will be afforded his first glimpse of the place that will be home for the next 16 months – a small cluster of green buildings dwarfed by the snow-covered landscape.

Rothera is run by the BAS which undertakes scientific research into everything from evolutionary biology to climate change.

“It’s an exciting challenge for me but as my departure date draws closer there are a few nerves in there too,” the computer graduate recalled when he spoke to the Donegal News this week.

“As wintering communications manager for Rothera, I am responsible for a wide range of activities. I will be managing a communications tower. I will also be fully trained to solve any technical issues or operate the radio, talking to boats, aircraft or the other bases,” he said.

BAS operates four research stations year-round in the Antarctic – two on the island of South Georgia and two in Antarctica itself – all in British Antarctic Territory. Elsewhere, countries such as America, Russia, Chile and Argentina have bases of their own. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of uninhabited miles separate each one.

Danny McFadden will arrive at Rothera at the busiest time of the year, the height of the southern summer, which runs from October to March.
Come next St Patrick’s Day, however, the summer crew will have departed and a skeleton staff of 20, including Danny, will be left over the long, dark months.

He cites a passion for snow and ice, scubadiving and the desire to travel as being among the main reasons behind his decision to move south.

While there are plenty of modern comforts, such as central heating, en suite showers, internet access, though too slow to Skype – there’s no escaping the fact that much of the work is still done outside in temperatures that reach minus 40 degrees Celsius in winter.

He will also have to cope with the added psychological pressures brought on by the fact that, from May to July, the sun won’t appear above the horizon and the weather will have grounded all transport.

Rothera research station.

Training

Danny has spent the past four months training in the BAS headquarters in Cambridge.

“I will be learning to ski and to mountaineer and, hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity for a bit of diving. On days off I also hope to accompany the boats and aircraft on trips to nearby scientific projects and work with the scientists to get a better understanding of what science is happening during my stay,” he said.

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Life at Rothera is not dissimilar to that at an expensive boarding-school. Five meals-a-day are served to ensure people have enough calories to work in the cold, and each Saturday there’s a three-course dinner where people “dress up”, candles are lit and wine is served.
“Although we do not have access to fresh ingredients every day, our chefs prepare food of the highest standard and the possibility of putting on weight is real,” he laughed.

Danny’s clothes have already been packed away, along with a Donegal GAA flag, into a one-metre-cubed cardboard box which was shipped south in August.

“I’ll be there two or three months before the ship containing my clothes arrives. I’ve had to forecast what I need and ship it down while I’m allowed to take 30kg of luggage with me, plus a lap-top. I suppose I’ll be living out of the ruck-sack until my personal box arrives by ship,” he said.

There is always plenty of work to do on an Antarctica station, so working an Irish style 40-hour week is not really practical.

“We often have to time our work with the prevailing weather. If it is atrocious outside, then we get on with indoor work or get some rest.
When the weather is suitable for aircraft operations and outdoor tasks, we put full effort in those directions.”

The coastal location means Danny will get the opportunity to observe a good selection of Antarctic birds and mammals, including adelie and emperor penguins, weddell, crabeater and elephant seals as well as minke and humpback whales.

“If the opportunity arises, I would love to do a bit of diving down there. I’ve been lucky enough to have done some cold water diving in Iceland, diving the German fleet in Scapa Flow, Orkney Islands and Lough Nee on the way home.”

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RNLI

A member of Letterkenny IT Sub Aqua club since 2000, Danny first became aware of the RNLI and their involvement around the coast during a rescue dive for a female diver off Arranmore.

In 2009, he joined Buncrana RNLI as a volunteer crew member and operated from both the Atlantic Inshore Lifeboat and the Tyne class all-weather boat.

By that stage he had relocated to Buncrana from the Rosses to be closer to his work with North West Electronics in Derry. As IT manager, he oversaw the continuous upgrade and roll-out of a network covering the top half of Ireland.

“Our customer numbers grew from 250 to close on 10,000 and a presence in one out of every twelve homes in Donegal,” he said.

In March, he ‘came upon’ the British Antarctic Survey website and saw that there were vacancies and applied for a job.

“My father (John) worked in various dam projects in Scotland, built houses in Juno, Alaska, worked in the mines of Mount Isa in Australia and various locations in the US before returning home as manager of the NWHB training centre in the Gweedore Industrial Estate.

“He’s been my inspiration to travel and work abroad. I’ve spent the last eight years helping to develop broadband in Donegal and Ulster and I was interested in a new challenge. I saw this job, one that suited my talents, and was surprised when I was offered an interview and, then, the position,” he said.

The son of Kathleen and John McFadden, Danny has two brothers James (Dublin) and Bartley (lieutenant in Army, Dublin) and three sisters Claire (San Francisco), Marion Rose (Bundoran) and Mairead (Australia).

“I’m not married but I have a girlfriend and it’s a difficult situation heading away for so long. I’ll miss my family too,” he said.

Danny McFadden will write a blog containing regular updates while Twitter will be used for a short daily update of goings on, pictures or events and items of note. He is also encouraging school children interested in Antarctica to contact him.

He will be blogging on www.dantarctic.com. He can also be followed on Twitter using @dantarctic while emails can be sent to info@dantarctic.com

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