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

While each person has different reasons for becoming homeless, a UBCO study shows they learn through their interactions with different services to perform ‘as homeless’ based on the expectations of service providers. (Contributed)
Kelowna homeless forced to ‘perform’ for resources, says UBCO study

One participant in the study said ‘It is about looking homeless, but not too homeless’

A dirty white Dodge Ram similiar to this one was reportedly stolen and then involved in a hit and run on Highway 97 in Lake Country Jan. 16. (Contributed)
Stolen truck that rammed car in Lake Country sought

Man in his 30s seen driving white Dodge Ram

Emergency worker Tyler Morgan prepares to administer a COVID-19 test at the Juneau International Airport. (Ben Hohenstatt/Juneau Empire)
New COVID-19 cases down 40% in Vernon area: BC CDC

BC Centre of Disease Control reports 59 new cases for local health area; Armstrong sees slight rise

Student binders await pick up in front of South Canoe Elementary school on Monday morning, Jan. 18, 2020. It was announced on Friday, Jan. 16, that the school would closed for up to two weeks after cases of COVID-19 had been confirmed among members of the school community. (Lachlan Labere-Salmon Arm Observer)
Greater effort encouraged to help curb COVID-19 at North Okangan-Shuswap schools

North Okanagan Shuswap Teachers Association president says teachers reeling from recent exposures

Seven Black Locust trees at Okanagan Centre Park and Museum will need to be removed after sustaining damage in the Jan. 13, 2021, windstorm. (District of Lake Country - Facebook)
Wind-damaged trees to come down in Lake Country park

District to make future improvements to picnic area, plant new trees

The BC SPCA is adapting its fundraising after cancelling events due to COVID-19 restrictions. (Twila Amato - Black Press Media)
BC SPCA gets creative with fundraising as pandemic continues

The non-profit’s in-person fundraising events all had to be cancelled due to COVID-19 restrictions

Gov. Gen. Julie Payette takes the royal salute from the Guard of Honour as she makes her way deliver the the throne speech, Wednesday, September 23, 2020 in Ottawa. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Fred Chartrand
Gov. Gen. Julie Payette resigns after searing report into workplace culture: reports

Payette, who is the Queen’s representative in Canada, has been the governor general since 2017

City of West Kelowna mowing services have been moved in house, saving the city from a potential quarter-million dollar increase in costs. (Pixabay)
West Kelowna cuts mowing contract, saves over $200k

Since forming in 2007, the City of West Kelowna has been contracting out their mowing services

Copper Mountain Mine is Princeton’s largest employer, with approximately 460 workers. Spotlight file photo.
Princeton Copper Mountain Mine worker tests positive for COVID

Town’s largest employer stresses its commitment to safe practices

Grounded WestJet Boeing 737 Max aircraft are shown at the airline’s facilities in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, May 7, 2019. WestJet will operate the first commercial Boeing 737 Max flight in Canada today since the aircraft was grounded in 2019 following two deadly crashes. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Passengers unfazed as WestJet returns Boeing 737 Max to service on Vancouver flight

After a lengthy review process, Transport Canada cleared the plane to return to Canadian airspace

The top part of the fossil burrow, seen from the side, with feathery lines from the disturbance of the soil – thought to be caused by the worm pulling prey into the burrow. (Paleoenvironntal Sediment Laboratory/National Taiwan University)
PHOTOS: SFU researchers find evidence of ‘giant’ predatory worms on ocean floor

Fossils found the prove the existence of an ancient Taiwanese worm as long as two metres

A woman wearing a face mask to help curb the spread of COVID-19 is seen through Christmas lights, in downtown Vancouver, on Sunday, November 22, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck)
South Okanagan COVID-19 numbers continue downward trend

Oliver and Osoyoos saw the most significant drop in cases Jan. 10 to 16

The Salmon Arm health area saw 36 new COVID-19 cases reported between Jan. 10 and 16. (BCCDC Image)
January COVID case numbers in Salmon Arm area already exceed 2020 total

Live data suggests Salmon Arm area saw 53 reported COVID-19 cases between Jan. 3 and 16.

RCMP officers provide policing for 63 B.C. municipalities under a provincial formula based on population. (Black Press file photo)
B.C. communities warned of upcoming RCMP unionization costs

Starting salaries for city police officers are 30% higher

Most Read