Following the tragic accident which occurred on 1st of July 1999, psychological support has been organised for the families of the victims to help them as much as possible to cope with the enormously difficult situation. IRAM also set up 6 working groups to analyse the consequences of this accident and to re-organise the work on the Plateau de Bure during the coming months.
One working group was given the mandate to find ways to provide financial help to the families of the victims. Thanks to the support by the CNRS and the "Fondation de France" , the help fund mentioned above has been created.
A second working group is concerned with technical aspects of the accident, including an in house enquiry to extract and review any material from the archives which could be relevant to the understanding of the causes of the tragedy.
A third working group is charged to follow the legal aspects of the accident (the official enquiry, insurance questions, etc...).
A fourth working group has the mandate to study all aspects of running the observatory during the next few weeks/months, i.e. before winter conditions set in. The cable car provided the only regular access to the site, and was used to transport not only the staff, but also every item required to support life on the site (i.e. food, water, fuel, liquid helium for the high frequency receivers, spare components, etc...). At present, access to the Plateau de Bure is by helicopter, weather permitting. The helicopter is also used to transport food and other supplies. To supplement the water supply, snow will be melted and rain water will be collected. - Under these circumstances, observations have restarted on a limited basis
One of the most urgent tasks is the study of options for the logistics during the next winter period. At this point in time it is not yet clear how big a team can be supported on the Plateau de Bure, given the limited means of transport. One of the sub-tasks of this study concerns the question how emergency access to the station can be guaranteed under all possible weather conditions.
The goal of the fifth group is to implement recovery actions for the two major construction activities which were going on this summer, i.e. the construction of the 6th antenna, and the extension of the North track. The first task was to secure the track extension surroundings, which were an active working place at the time of the accident. Since then, all activities related to the track extension are stopped and will probably have to be delayed until the next summer.
The construction of antenna 6 has also been put on halt because the available staff is needed to work on priority tasks such as securing the water supply etc... A further priority during the next few weeks will be the maintenance of the existing antennas, in order to prepare them as soon as possible for the next winter period. There is sufficient supply of components to continue with the construction of antenna 6 for about 7 weeks. However, the decision on when to resume the construction work will be kept pending until a regular working schedule can be established again. Besides many smaller components (carbon fibre tubing, nodes, surface panels, subreflector, quadrupod legs), one major item for antenna 6 is missing. This is the so called "central hub", a key element of the reflector backup structure. This piece has a diameter of 4.4 m and a weight of about 5 tons. Bringing up such a large and heavy piece on the Plateau poses a special problem which needs to be studied.
A sixth working group has been charged to review all possible modes of access to the Plateau de Bure in the long term. Under certain conditions one can envisage that the old cable car can be repaired and be available for the transport of materials on a timescale of several months. This would help enormously for the regular supply of water and fuel during the coming winter months, two critical items on the Plateau. The transport of personnel is, however, another, much more severe problem. The mandate of the group is to evaluate all possible solutions, and to make recommendations in term of safety, dependency on weather conditions, time needed for one rotation, timescale for implementation and cost.