Rescue from the Crevasse

The Meagan McGrath Story

“I can’t thank Iridium enough. You helped save my life. The battery of the Iridium phone hung in the whole time. It was my lifeline, truly. The rescue team was able to send me updates on their whereabouts, and eventually came to get me. I was really happy to have had the phone.”

Meagan McGrath

Meagan McGrath is a Canadian Air Force Major and experienced mountaineer. In December 2009, she departed on a journey to become the first Canadian to solo ski from Hercules Inlet in Antarctica to the South Pole.

After a successful test expedition to the North Pole, along with two years of training and researching the terrain, McGrath was well prepared for her mission. Packing enough food and supplies to sustain her for the 45-60 day trek, McGrath also equipped herself with a critical lifeline – her Iridium 9505A satellite phone.

No Way Out

Although McGrath had done everything right, she nevertheless fell victim to the treacherous terrain. After momentarily removing her skis – with waves of ice limiting her visibility ahead – McGrath lost her footing and found herself up to her armpits in a crevasse. With no foothold below, she hung precariously from her backpack, which was attached to her sled. A few minutes passed, and the edge that kept McGrath from falling directly into the crevasse gave way, causing her to crash through the surface. Her fall was abruptly halted by the waistband of her backpack. The sled hung unsteadily above.

After attempting to cut away her waist-belt to avoid suffocation, McGrath shook off her facemask to get a better look at what she was doing. Luckily, her mask landed on a snowy ledge below. She then squirmed through the hole created by her waist-belt and backpack, and fell onto the snow bridge.

Using her poles to maneuver safely along the snow bridge, McGrath traveled 15 meters from her starting position to a high point. The walls were sheer blue ice and difficult for her to get a handhold. She used her ski pole to cut steps into the wall of the crevasse and attempted to climb out, but it was proving too tough.

A Signal of Hope

Still in the crevasse, McGrath remembered her Iridium phone and made her way back to her pack. She then climbed back to her high point and pulled out the handset. She extended the antenna and powered up the phone.

“I had five bars,” said McGrath. “I was happy and astounded. I thought, at that moment, at least my family and friends would know what happened to me and could find out where I was.” McGrath called for help and found that her logistics provider, Antarctic Logistics and Expeditions (ALE) was able to send a search and rescue team to her aid. After eight hours in the crevasse, McGrath was rescued.

Watch Major McGrath tell her story.

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July 2011