December 14, 1912: Mawson’s disaster–the truth strikes home

—from Douglas Mawson’s account “The Home of the Blizzard”—

“We were a happy party that morning as we reveled in the sunshine and laid plans for a final dash eastwards before turning our faces homewards. Mertz who was well in the lead, the conditions being both suitable and agreeable for employment of skis, was in high spirits as was evident from the snatches of song wafted back from time to time. Shortly after noon while travelling thus light-heartedly, a terrible catastrophe happened.

“I noticed Mertz halt for a moment and hold up his ski-stick—this was a signal that something unusual was afoot. Approaching the vicinity with the foremost sledge a few minutes later, I kept a look-out for crevasses or other explanation of his action. As a matter of face crevasses were not expected, since we were on a smooth even surface inland from the obviously broken coastal slopes.

“Failing to observe any cause for the signal, I jumped on the sledge, got out the book of tables and commenced to figure out the latitude observation taken a few minutes previously. A moment later the faint indication of a crevasse passed beneath the sledge but it had not appearance of being in any degree specially dangerous. . . .

“There was no sound from behind except a faint, plaintive whine from one of the dogs which I imagined was in reply to a touch from Ninnis’ whip.

“When next I looked back, it was in response to the anxious gaze of Mertz who had turned round and halted in his tracks. Behind me nothing met the eye except my own sledge tracks running back in the distance. Where were Ninnis and his sledge?”

“I hastened back along the trail thinking that a rise in the ground obscured the view. There was no such good fortune, however, for I came to a gaping hole in the surface about eleven feet wide. The lid of the crevasse that had caused me so little thought had broken in; two sledge tracks led up to it on the far side—only one continued beyond.’

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