Researchers wave to an oncoming helicopter at a base in Antarctic. (Doug Sperlich photo)

Researchers wave to an oncoming helicopter at a base in Antarctic. (Doug Sperlich photo)

Enderby pilot to make second journey to Antarctica

24-year-old pilot flies as a first officer for Calgary-based airline

Doug Sperlich could have taken the conventional route once he’d decided to become an aviator.

But instead of joining a commercial airline, he went in a different direction: he went south — as far south as possible.

In January, the 24-year-old from Enderby, will make his second trip to Antarctica, where he works as a co-pilot transporting scientific researchers and logistics workers to sites across the icy continent.

Last year, Sperlich started working for Kenn Borek Air, the Calgary-based airline that transports virtually all of the cargo and people that move about in Antarctica.

Sperlich will spend two months at various national and private camps there.

Getting there takes two weeks and a number of stops along the way. When he gets to Chile, it’ll be time for the daunting flight over ocean waters.

Once the plane passes the halfway point between Chile and Rothera Research Station — a large British base in Antarctica — there’s not enough fuel left to turn around.

“It’s a one-way trip,” Sperlich said. “They call it a point of no return.”

Weather conditions on the southernmost continent can be intense and volatile, and if the visibility is poor planes aren’t allowed to take off.

But when hopping over the ocean, there’s no choice but to land, whether you can see the runway or not.

The weather, it turns out, can be just as hazardous when on the ground.

“There’s been times where to go to the mess hall from my room I would have to crawl out to it because the winds are so strong that if you try to stand up you literally just get blown backwards slowly,” Sperlich said, describing some of the worse days on Antarctica’s plateau, elevated 13,000 feet at the top.

“If they’re expecting high winds they put a rope around the camp so that if you accidentally wander off you’ll find something. Because if you get lost out there in a windstorm, I don’t think anybody’s going to looking for you.”

Sperlich first learned how to fly and maintain an airplane from his uncle, an aviation mechanical engineer.

He also flies in his spare time. Two years ago, he bought a four-cylinder airplane built in 1963, which he keeps at the Vernon Airport.

“I take this thing for joyrides all the time,” he said one day while doing some regular maintenance.

It’s a much smaller plane than the Twin Otter he takes down to Antarctica — and a lot more affordable.

“You’d be surprised,” he said when asked about the price. “It came up to about $30,000.”

READ MORE: Map points to mysterious ‘Waterdome’ in the middle of Salmon Arm Bay

READ MORE: Vernon senior surrounded by family on 100th birthday

Once he’s made that first, nerve-wracking landing from across the ocean, Sperlich says his stress levels go down — perhaps more so there than anywhere else.

“I count it to not having good access to the internet, not seeing what everybody else is doing, just being in my own world,” he said, describing a mental state of pure equilibrium he found there that is owed to isolation mixed with adventure, and a healthy dose of peace and quiet when the howling winds die down.

“You can step out on the ice, stand there and hear your own heartbeat because there’s not another sound. Sometimes if it’s really sunny you can hear the ice melting. I’ve never heard ice melting before,” he said.

“It was the most alone I’ve been, however, the least lonely I’ve felt.”

Coming home after his five-month stint last year was an adjustment.

Sperlich said it wasn’t easy to reacquaint himself with crowds of people, and the general discordance of everyday life in North America.

“It was hard to come back to at first,” he said.

“My heart would start pounding because there’s too many people around.”

Sperlich has a lot of stories from his experience so far.

He remembers playing football out on the ice with members of his base, while the British contingent played cricket with a bat fashioned from a pallet and a ball of ice.

He recalls speaking to researchers he was transporting — stories of spending decades drilling into the ice in search of bacteria millions of years old.

These stories add up to Sperlich’s reasoning for choosing this path, as opposed to working for WestJet.

“It’s the adventure,” he said. “Completely the adventure.”


Brendan Shykora
Reporter, Vernon Morning Star
Email me at Brendan.Shykora@vernonmorningstar.com
Follow us: Facebook | Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Five properties have been added to the Lake Country fire protection zone, after council moved to expand the local service area Tuesday, May 4, 2021. (Google Maps)
Lake Country expands fire protection zone, covering 5 exposed properties

The properties petitioned to join the local service area after being left out ‘for reasons unknown’

The Vernon Vipers defeated the Salmon Arm Silverbacks 3-1 to secure the top spot in the BC Hockey League Vernon pod Friday, May 7, 2021. (Lisa Mazurek Photography)
VIDEO: Vipers beat Salmon Arm, clinch top spot in BCHL Vernon pod

Goaltender James Porter Jr. was a wall for the Vipers, who outscored the Silverbacks 3-1 Friday

VSAR’s Air Rescue One unit assisted in a rescue in West Kelowna May 3, 2021. (VSAR screenshot)
VIDEO: VSAR’s Air Rescue One team assists in West Kelowna Rescue

The Vernon Search and Rescue helicopter team pulled off a successful rescue Monday

A proposed development would see two four-storey affordable housing complexes erected on Adair Street in Armstrong, next to the Nor-Val Arena. (Google Maps)
Local tenants to be prioritized for Armstrong affordable housing project

Staff have drafted an expression of interest to find a developer to move forward with on the project

Cops for Kids riders will be spinning 30 feet in the air on scissor lifts at SaveOn Foods locations in Kelowna, Lake Country and West Kelowna Saturday, May 8, 2021. (File photo)
Cops reach new heights for Okanagan kids

Nor-Val Rentals is doing the heavy lifting Saturday in Kelowna, West Kelowna and Lake Country

(The Canadian Press)
Trudeau won’t say whether Canada supports patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines

‘Canada is at the table to help find a solution’

Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (97) celebrates his 100th point this season with Leon Draisaitl (29) against the Vancouver Canucks during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, May 8, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Edmonton superstar McDavid hits 100-point mark as Oilers edge Canucks 4-3

NHL scoring leader needs just 53 games to reach century mark

Peachland resident and cleanup volunteer Lloyd Stinson Sotas holds up a discarded TV riddled with bullet holes. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
PHOTOS: Peachland residents clean up community watershed

More than 70 people gave back to Mother Earth by assisting with the cleanup

A map showing where the most number of cases were recorded from April 23 to 29. This map, revealing a breakdown of infections by neighborhood, was pulled from a data package leaked to the Vancouver Sun last week (and independently verified).
36 Abbotsford schools flagged for COVID-19 exposures in the last 2 weeks, shattering record

Clearbrook Elementary recorded an ‘exposure’ on all 11 school days

Canada’s chief public health officer is reminding Canadians even those who are fully vaccinated are not immune from transmitting the COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns full vaccination does not equal full protection from COVID-19

Post-inoculation, Theresa Tam says the risk of asymptomatic infection and transmission is far lower but not obsolete

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Kelowna OK Tire closed due to COVID-19 exposure

The business will remain closed until May 11

The dash cam footage, taken May 7 at 8:18 a.m. belonged to the driver of a southbound vehicle that recently travelled out of the tunnel. (Reddit/Screen grab)
VIDEO: Dash cam captures dramatic rollover crash on Highway 99

Only one person sustained injuries from the collision, says B.C. Ambulance Services

Chevy stranded on a ledge above a rocky canyon at Mimi Falls near Logan Lake, April 28, 2021. (Photo credit: Margot Wikjord)
Police officer and fire chief team up in risky rescue of stranded dog near Logan Lake

Chevy, a rescue dog, needed rescuing again after getting stuck on a ledge above rocky canyon

Most Read