Institute for Telecommunication Sciences / May 1965

May 1965: CRPL Scientist Disappears in Antarctica

On the frigid morning of May 8, 1965, Carl Disch disappeared from Byrd Station in Antarctica. Disch was a Central Radio Propagation Laboratory employee researching forward scatter in the ionosphere. At 9:15 Disch left the Radio Noise Laboratory about a mile and a quarter from the main Byrd station, but apparently missed the hand line that led back to safety. A search party looked for Disch when he failed to return. Byrd station fired flares, and a human chain was formed to methodically search the snow-covered runway where Disch's tracks appeared to lead, but conditions were difficult. Thirty mile an hour winds covered the footprints with snow and threatened the safety of the searchers; the weather hovered around 44 degrees below zero. No body was found, but after four more days of searching Disch was presumed dead of exposure. The 1965 Bulletin of the US Antarctic Project Officer noted record lows for Byrd Station and underscored the dangers of the area with a story about Old Byrd Station, which had been replaced after it was buried by a snow drift only five years after its completion. Disch's death was the only fatality suffered by CRPL in its Antarctic research, which supported increased understanding of the troposphere and ionosphere. ITS no longer maintains Antarctic research stations but the knowledge gained from these experiments led to a better understanding of radio propagation and interference in the atmosphere that still guides current research.