At the bottom of the world, at Amundsen-Scott Base on the South Pole, Australian scientist Rodney Marks died in 2000. He lay there trapped and far removed from conventional medical treatments. What had appeared to be a small problem became an unsolvable problem in no time.
This was in May of 2000. Several months afterward, tests proved that he had been poisoned by a lethal dosage of methanol alcohol. New Zealand authorities were stonewalled in their attempts to find further information. What happened to this Australian astronomer who died a mysterious death at the world’s most remote location?
Police suggest he may have been murdered. Suicide seems unlikely. He had been awakened at 5:30 AM vomiting blood and with a tremendous pain in his stomach. He went to the base hospital that day. Dr. Thompson, the physician, had only two links to the outside world. One was an Internet connection and the second was a satellite phone. Both were down.
He was examined and dismissed. As Marks lay on his bed, his girlfriend, Sonja, watched him and they both listened to the sounds of the winter. His breathing became uncontrollable. They made their way back to Biomed, through dim tunnels. It seemed like they were in slow motion.
The doctor noticed he was now hyperventilating and appeared confused. He was administered Haldol, a powerful sedative. Laying down, Marks lost consciousness. Suddenly his heart stopped. A trauma team, a few volunteers, was summoned. They pumped air into his lungs to no avail.
The day was May 12, 2000. Marks took his last breath and not until five months later was his body retrieved and finally flown to New Zealand. An eight-year investigation commenced. It didn’t appear that anything natural happened to Marks.
Carpenters at the South Pole located a stash of oak and used it as a casket. A maple plaque with the inscription of his favorite constellation, Scorpio, was added. His body was placed in the casket and a sled hauled it to the geographic South Pole for a final ceremony. Under a black sky, words from his mother were read and he was lowered into the ground.
Official coroner findings were released and stated that, “Rodney David Marks died as a result of acute methanol poisoning, probably occurring one or two days earlier, he being either unaware of the overdose or not understanding the possible complications of it.”
One revelation that came to light from Harry Mahar, who was the South Pole safety officer, is that he had heard that Marks had an “unusually-shaped” bottle of liquor he had brought to the base from a visit to New Zealand, just before winter started.
What makes this interesting is that it’s common knowledge that throughout Southeast Asia that certain local brews containing palm liquor have been spiked with methanol. Why? To increase potency.
The World Health Organization reports that 300 deaths per year occur due to illicit liquor. These are accompanied by symptoms of acute methanol poisoning.
What was the real story behind Rodney Mark’s death? He worked for the AST/RO program. This is an acronym for the Antarctic Sub millimeter Telescope and Remote Observatory. He spent most of his time collected data on viewing conditions and the operations of the enormous infrared telescope. Did he know too much?
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