Last week, near the end of the polar winter, a Russian engineer, Sergy Savitsky, reportedly stabbed a co-worker, Oleg Beloguzov, in the chest with a knife. Savitsky claimed that he did not intend to kill his co-worker, but the wound was deep enough to lacerate a portion of the victim’s heart. Beloguzov was rushed to a hospital in Chile and is in stable condition. Savitky voluntarily surrendered to the Bellingshausen station manager.
The motive for the attempted murder: Beloguzov had a habit of telling Savitsky the endings of books his co-worker wanted to read. His murderous rage may have been stoked by alcohol.
I visited the Bellingshausen Station in the summer of 1969 along with a half-dozen of my shipmates from the USCGC Glacier. A primitive lunch and two large glasses of vodka did not lead to an angry confrontation with our Cold War enemies, but rather to a spirit of international camaraderie.
I discovered while doing research for my book that the long polar night and confined quarters often leads to tense situations. Over time, minor grievances become major ones. But this is the first time I’ve heard of an attempted murder (the Filchner expedition in 1912 came close.) If we had spent the polar winter cooped up with the Russian crewmembers, major confrontations would have been hard to avoid, whether fueled by alcohol or not.
When the Glacier was trapped in the Weddell Sea icepack, like Shackleton, the forty crewmembers picked to winter-over on the ship were chosen based on their technical qualifications, without regard to their ability to peacefully co-exist during such a stressful situation. In my professional opinion, that was a mistake. The near murder of the Russian crewmember highlights the risks associated with ignoring the personality characteristics of wintering-over personnel.