We had just finished our evening recap & briefing meeting and were heading to dinner when Captain Dag’s voice came over the public address system. Two guests needed serious medical treatment, he told us, and the ship had to change its course. The upcoming morning’s planned glacier hike on Niko Island would be cancelled. Instead, we would head back north to King George Island, where a medevac plane would arrive from Chile at 6 a.m. to transport the passengers to a hospital in Punta Arenas.
Emotions around the ship covered an entire spectrum that evening. Compassion. Disappointment. Concern. Frustration. Anger. We were well prepared for the possibility of missing a landing due to the changing Antarctic weather, but I don’t think any of us gave much thought to a medical evacuation. Captain Dag later spoke about his decision, explaining that Antarctica is one of the only places in the world without access to a hospital. The medical team on board had been caring for the two sick passengers, he explained. Both needed major treatment that the ship could not provide, and they needed it quickly:
“We are basically in the wilderness. When it comes to saving a life, think of it as if it were you.”
By early morning, the Quest had arrived at King George Island, but the medevac plane never made it. Weather conditions created impossible flying conditions, causing the Chilean flight to be rescheduled for 9 a.m., then Noon, then late afternoon. When the flight was postponed until the following day, Captain Dag made the only decision he could: We would leave Antarctica and head to Ushuaia, Argentina, two days ahead of schedule, where the ill passengers could be transferred to the local hospital.
Herb and I made the best of these unexpected days on board. The Seabourn crew and expedition team added lectures, tours of the bridge, even a champagne party on the pool deck. There was an unspoken understanding that we were literally all in the same boat, and that two families among us were going through an unimaginable experience.
Although I never thought our time in Antarctica would end so abruptly, I was grateful that I hadn’t missed a moment. Carpe diem. Drink in every drop. Our four days on the White Continent had been as rich and fulfilling and full of wonder as any days of travel I’ve ever known.
Antarctica is a place that really seeps into your soul. And I don’t think that feeling will ever fade.