T-3

Feb 15, 2013, 7:00AM EST
T-3
An Arctic ice island used in 1952-1974 as a US weather and research facility

 T-3, also known as Fletcher’s Ice Island, was a large iceberg in the Arctic Ocean used for many years as a scientific research facility by the United States Government.  It was identified in 1947 by USAF Colonel Joseph O. Fletcher.  Following the end of World War II, the United States was concerned about Soviet activity in the Arctic and potential vulnerability of North America from across the polar region.  As plans were formulated to construct what became the Distant Early Warning or DEW Line of radar stations, it was also recognized that knowledge of Arctic weather was woefully lacking.  The concept of a floating weather and research base in the Arctic led to a search for a suitable ice floe.  The first two ice floes found were labeled T-1 and T-2, but were rejected.  The third ice floe, which had broken off from an Ellesmere Island ice shelf, proved ideal.  It was in a gyre causing it to circle slowly around waters off Canada and Alaska.  T-3 was a kidney-shaped tabular iceberg approximately seven miles long and three miles wide.  Its average thickness was 125 feet.  Its flat surface lent itself to establishment of a runway and installation of a small manned weather station in 1952.  The weather station was abandoned in 1954.  In 1957, the Department of Defense returned, improving the runway and installing 26 huts for weather observations and scientific research.  The facility was generally occupied by a 25-30 man team consisting of both military personnel and scientists.  Resupply was most frequently done by aircraft flying out of either Barrow, Alaska or Thule Air Force Base, Greenland, depending on which was closest to T-3 at the time.  In May 1960, T-3 grounded near Wainwright, Alaska and was temporarily abandoned.  It was reoccupied in early 1962 and remained active until 1974, when continual habitation of the site ended.  T-3 exited the Arctic gyre and entered the North Atlantic via the Fram Strait in 1983, melting into oblivion.  In addition to providing unique data concerning the Arctic environment, T-3 has an unusual place in US jurisprudence.  On 16 July 1970, personnel at the research station got into an argument involving the consumption of homemade raisin wine.  One individual picked up a loaded rifle when he feared an assault by another individual.  The rifle went off and the second individual died.  Upon learning of the tragedy, a team of government personnel were dispatched by helicopter.  Likening the ice island to a ship, arrest of the assailant was made by a US Coast Guard Special Agent.  The assailant was flown back to Thule and then on to Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia.  He was arraigned in the US District Court for the Northern District of Virginia for manslaughter.  At trial, the defendant challenged the charges.  The prosecutor contended that the ice island was the functional equivalent of a ship and, since it flew the US flag and was occupied or crewed by US personnel, it was a US-flag vessel, therefore US law applied.  The trial court agreed and the defendant was convicted of involuntary manslaughter within the special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States.  The defendant appealed.  The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, hearing the case en banc, was evenly divided on the issue of jurisdiction, with the result that the case continues to stand as the only time an ice island on the high seas was legally determined to be a ship.  The conviction, though, was overturned due to an erroneous jury instruction.  The government decided to not re-prosecute and the defendant went free.  The definition of special maritime and territorial jurisdiction of the United States was later amended by Congress to include any place outside the jurisdiction of any nation with respect to an offense by or against a national of the United States.

 
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