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CARL ROBERT DISCH – AN ANTARCTIC MYSTERY

Posted on: March 30, 2017

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Scientist Missing On Antarctic Walk” read a headline in the Chicago Tribune in May 1965, which makes it sound as though he’d gone out for a gentle stroll, or a sponsored hike.  In fact, Carl Robert Disch walked out one morning during a grim Polar winter, and has never been seen since.  His story beguiles because no trace of him has ever been found, and there are many vary strange elements to his tale.

Carl Robert Disch, aged 26, worked as an ionospheric physicist at Byrd Station, Antarctica.  He was part of a team investigating radio noises for the National Bureau of Standards.   Disch was stationed at the radio noise building, which was situated about 7000 feet, just over a mile from the main station complex.   At 09:15 on the morning of 8 May Disch left the building, and set off with a purposeful tread to the main complex.  It was a journey he had done 25 times before, and so was well experienced with it.   The temperature was a forbidding -45 degs F (-42 degs C), but Disch was well equipped in his Polar gear.

When he hadn’t arrived at the main complex by 10:00 AM, a vehicle search-party was organised.  At 11:30 his trail was picked up leading to the south-west corner of the skiway, about 4 miles away.  The search-party returned to base to refuel, and then spent the next 3 hours trying to pick up the trail again.   Hampered by 35 mph winds, they returned to base at 18:00, and at 19:50 everyone was drafted in, and a human chain was formed to the end of the skiway.   Flares were fired from the aurora tower, but by now the weather had deteriorated so much that they were deemed to be of not much use, and discontinued.

Over the next few days more attempts were made to find Disch, but the weather was proving to be seriously troublesome.   Blowing snow, the seasonal darkness, and temperatures plummeting to -79 degs F (-61 degs C) all made conditions extremely difficult.   Disch was never found, and on 14 May, a memorial service was held for him in his hometown of Monroe, Wisconsin.

Many strange stories have sprung up around Carl’s disappearance.  There is the case of his favourite husky dog, who was also said to have vanished without trace a short while afterwards.  There were also stories of mysterious lights in the sky, and odd engine noises.   There is also the question of why Disch walked out so resolutely.  On the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station website, they quote a colleague who said that Disch had stormed out after a card game had gone wrong, with Disch possibly accusing someone of cheating.  It’s easy to imagine that in an isolated place like that, such a thing would get blown out of all magnitude.  Another quote is that Disch had walked out to escape a colleague who was a nice guy, but terminally boring!!  Carl got so fed up of listening to his monotone that he’d walked out, never to be seen again.

An engaging Urban Myth (if you can have an Urban Myth in Antarctica) has also come out of the Disch case.  In 1971, it is claimed, a message arrived at McMurdo Message Center, via the AA2 Weather Circuit.  The author of the message claimed to be Carl Disch.  He said: “To the world I am dead.  They believe that my body is but a pinpoint frozen here to the surface of this white continent.  I say to you, I, Carl Disch, live.  Do not for one moment think that it was a mistake.  Everything was planned.  They pushed me, tormented me and bored me with their shallow lives”.    He goes on to claim that he was a genius, and had been adopted by an elderly couple when he was very young.  He wrote that he had seduced his dog away using tinned oysters soaked in barbecue sauce.    He talks about the intense loneliness he now feels: “the endless singing of the wind almost drives me mad.  I begin to long for human companionship”.  

It seems to be largely accepted that the message is an imaginative hoax, and it’s hard to see how Disch could have survived 6 years on his own in such an alien environment, with no access to a natural food source.   But nevertheless the tales of the scientist’s disappearance, missing dog and the lights in the sky in that enigmatic land continue to engage anyone with a love of the mysterious.

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