On top of the world in Heart's Delight

By BRIAN CALLAHAN*

From the top of the world, Steve Crocker watched and listened as his son, Brian, arrived safely at the bottom.

And on the evening of Oct. 1st, they were reunited -- where else but in their hometown of Heart's Delight, Newfoundland. The picturesque village is located on Trinity Bay in the Carbonear region of the Avalon Region, approximately 130 km from St. John's; 1990 population 868 people before recent outmigration with the collapse of the northern codfishery. [1]

"The worst of it all was that our communication up there (near the North Pole) was very poor," Steve Crocker told The Telegram newspaper in St. John's, as he waited patiently to welcome Brian home in a jammed parking lot near the unofficial entrance to town.

Steve Crocker was doing contract work near the North Pole on new early warning systems for North America.

"I was actually getting very little about the story there ... and the guys around me were really into it, too. I mean, we had phone communications and some satellite TV to follow it, but that's about it."

Of course, hundreds of others were on hand to greet Brian as well, including his brother Steve and mother Marilyn. Then there were the obligatory fire trucks, ambulances and any other vehicles with a siren and/or lights to lead a motorcade through town.

Brian Crocker's story has been well documented; how he successfully co-piloted a dangerous rescue mission to the South Pole Sept. 21 through some of the most treacherous and unpredictable conditions on Earth.

It involved almost 10 hours of flying about 2,200 kilometres from Antarctica's British Rothera Air Base to the Pole, finally landing on a makeshift runway in the darkness of the Southern Hemisphere winter after five days of weather delays.

After 10 hours' rest, and picking up their ailing patient, they made the return trip.

In total, Crocker logged about 65 hours of flying time from the moment he left his company's base in Calgary until his return to Canada late last week.

So it might come as no surprise that he chose to drive, rather than fly, home from Ottawa with his mother, who flew up to meet him. The plan was always to leave his car in Heart's Delight for the winter.

The pair arrived at Port aux Basques early in the morning of Oct. 1, driving all day to make it home by dark. Pulling into the muddy, gravel parking lot of Bryant's Club around 6:40 pm, he was humbled by the outpouring of pride in his accomplishment.

Initially not recognizing the vehicle, it didn't take long for the crowd to first tentatively, then enthusiastically surround Brian's grey Saturn, politely approaching for a hug, kiss, handshake or slap on the back.

"Where's Santa Claus?" Brian joked as he climbed out of the car, referring to the premature commotion at the official starting point of the town's annual Christmas parade.

After greeting his dad and brother, he modestly accepted congratulations from countless others -- never missing a first name.

"This really was a surprise," said Brian, forced to shout above the constant wail of horns and sirens. "I had a good idea something was up, but I didn't think it would be this much.

"But I was given stiff orders to stop at Bryant's parking lot."

Standing back and watching the proceedings, Heart's Delight-Islington Mayor Stan Reid gushed with obvious pride.

"It's just wonderful," Reid said. "We're so proud to have one of our own native sons accomplish such a mission.

"He looks great and he's none the worse for anything."

Moments later, Brian was ushered to the spacious cab of a fire truck which led a snaking 60-odd vehicle motorcade through town, lights, sirens and horns blaring.

Flanked by his brother, three friends and a reporter in a cab separate from the driver's, he elaborated on the South Pole mission, describing it as "routine" and "uneventful" -- just the way he likes it.

"Overall, it went really, really well," Brian said between sips of a cold beer. "The whole thing went off without a hitch."

The crew of three flew mostly on instruments, as there was little if any visibility.

"Yeah, it was pretty white all the way."

Crocker's attention was drawn to people waving from open windows along the route. Occasionally the lights in some houses were flicking on and off as the motorcade passed.

"Yeah, I appreciate everything, but I just feel like this is all so unnecessary and stuff. I mean, it's a lot of attention for just doing my job. But I can appreciate this is something they want to do, too."

Surprisingly, he said a second plane on standby during the mission had the more dangerous job.

"Our job was easy; take off, fly to the pole, land and come back," he said.

"If something happened and we crashed or something, and didn't make it, they had the tough job. They'd have to come find us and finish the mission."

Crocker, who turns 28 Oct. 26, will return to Chile, where the crew's plane remains, in mid-October.

From there they will fly back to Antarctica to continue four months of support work for ongoing research, before returning home again.

Meantime, the ailing American research worker who was rescued, Barry McCue, was recovering from gall bladder surgery at his daughter's home in Chicago Wednesday.

"Those guys are great," McCue told The Associated Press Wednesday. "They had just flown 10 hours through the roughest environment known to man."

* Adapted from The Telegram, October 2, 200310/2/03

[1] Tony Legge at http://www.angelfire.com/nf/HeartsDelight/ writes: "One theory on how Heart's Delight received its name was that a weary man travelling from Whitbourne looked the place over; his heart was filled with delight and so on he went to name Heart's Desire and Heart's Content. This theory; however, is disputed by the writer due to the fact that Heart's Content was given its name before Heart's Delight and chances are that the names of Heart's Delight and Heart's Desire were spin-offs from Heart's Content. The theory of the harbour being the shape of a heart could also be disputed for the reason, does Heart's Desire or Heart's Content have heart-shaped harbours? Wherever it got its name, it is a picturesque community."