Flore Van Maldeghem


The one with the helicopter

Fieldwork in Greenland

On Tuesday July 18th, Willem (the field guide), Steven (the supervisor) and myself (the PhD student) leave for Copenhagen from Brussels airport. After a stressful moment, thanks to an overbooked flight, Willem manages to get on the same plane. We land in Copenhagen and spend one night in a hotel before we travel onwards to Greenland.

At the airport of Copenhagen, we meet Will (the British PhD student from Copenhagen). We continue our journey, first to Kangerlussuaq and then, with a small propellor plane, to Ilulissat, catching the first glimpses of the Greenlandic ice sheet. Upon arrival, we inquire for the last updates on our helicopter flight the next day. The people at the airport seem oblivious and just tell us to be at the airport one hour before.

The moment we leave the tiny airport, Wills phone rings. It’s the charter service of AirGreenland. Quickly, Will passes the phone to me. On the other side of the line follows an incoherent explanation about our helicopter. Even though we arranged this in November 2022, it suddenly is not available anymore. We are stunned. Our fieldwork depends on the helicopter, because there is no other way to reach the planned location. We regroup in hotel icefiord and decide to not be pushed aside just like that. After some emails, phone calls and mild threats with AirGreenland, they promise to fine a solution for us. Thus far the longest Wednesday of my life.

The next morning, we wait in suspense for the redeeming phone call. They have a plan: instead of the one big helicopter that we booked (which is apparently in Rotterdam as we will learn later) they will fly us in two trips with a smaller helicopter. Excited to leave, we make the final preparations. Unfortunately the weather was not as happy to cooperate. There is too much fog, so we can’t take off. The rollercoaster of emotions continues. In the evening, the weather clears, and because there is no free spot in a hotel, but mainly to appreciate the beautiful surroundings a bit, we put up our tents along the icefiord and enjoy the midnight sun on the icebergs.

AirGreenland reschedules us for Saturday. On Friday, we kill some time with a walk, hiding for the rain in hotel icefiord (where the staff is getting to know us) and speculate options in case the weather is bad the next day. The alternatives will be necessary. On Saturday, it is again too foggy. No helicopter for us… 

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