- Ron Chapple, Aerial Director of Photography
I was asked to film aerials for the BBC project "Patagonia: Earth’s Secret Paradise” in which the script described a land foretold by the old sailors' adage, “Below 40 degrees south there is no law; Below 50 degrees south there is no god.” We would be flying through some of the most extreme environments in the world.
Our plan was to fly south to Punta Arenas and then onto the village of Puerto Williams on Isla Navarino, just across the Beagle Channel from Argentina. From Puerto Williams we planned on filming the glaciers which marched down from the mountains of Alberto de Agostina Parque Nacional into the northern reaches of the Beagle Channel. If we were lucky, we would attempt a flight out to Cabo de Hornos (Cape Horn).
The night before our flight, our pilot pulled me aside and said “The locals call this Death Pass. We only have one chance to make it through as there will not be enough fuel to return to Punta Arenas.” I fell asleep that night with my head spinning around those words... Death Pass, one chance... and wondering why I ever accepted this opportunity! In the morning, the flight began uneventfully as we crossed the Strait of Magellan. We soon turned south and climbed towards the mountains. Within minutes we were almost in the clouds at only 100 meters above the ground. And then, the valley dropped away... we made it through Death Pass!
Next, we headed to Cabo de Hornos, which is not a singular point of land, but an archipelago of islands. The wind can be perfectly calm on one side of an island and funneled to hurricane strength on the other side. After Cabo de Hornos, the next stop is Antarctica... we were going to fly to the edge of the map!
We continued south until we could see the last piece of land - beyond was an angry sky engorged with black clouds and rain. We would only get one chance at the shot before our helicopter, camera, and lens would be immersed in nature’s wet fury. Perhaps knowing that you have only one chance at the shot is what calms the nerves. The jet turbine strained against the gale force winds as the helicopter blades chopped through the turbulent air. We flew low over the crashing waves and I knew we had our shot! Cabo de Hornos is at 55 degrees...we had just survived the old sailors warning that “Below 50 south, there is no god.”
Ice is balanced by fire, and Patagonia is truly a land of ice and fire. Mountains, and especially volcanoes, create their own weather. In the light air of Mt. Villarica, the mountain quickly showed us that we were not in control, but simply invited guests. Our host did not disappoint as 15 meter explosions of molten lava blasted into the sky. Within 36 hours, Mt Billerica would make world news headlines with a violent eruption tossing lava and molten rock hundreds of meters into the sky.
In a land like Patagonia, the only way to become complacent would be to lock yourself in a hotel room. The land has so many stories to tell us - it is alive. Filming here is a privilege and a responsibility. Only nature lets you in, and nature does so on her own terms. She doesn’t really care if you make it through Death Pass, or survive a journey to the edge of the map. Nature opens up the opportunity, and you are welcomed only if you make a promise to share the beauty. This was our opportunity, and our responsibility. View clips filmed during this adventure.