WASHINGTON: After flying through dangerous dark and cold, a rescue plane landed on Tuesday at the South Pole to evacuate a sick worker from a remote US science station, federal officials said.
The plane arrived at the South Pole after a daring 1,500-mile, nine-hour trip from a British base on the Antarctic peninsula, according to the National Science Foundation, which runs the polar outpost.
The plane’s crew — a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and medical worker — will rest and wait for at least 10 hours. Then if weather conditions are favourable, the plane will refuel and return to Rothera, said agency spokesman Peter West. After that the sick worker will be taken out of Antarctica for treatment.
“It went all according to plan,” West said from Arlington, Virginia.
A second worker is also ill, but officials have yet to decide whether that patient will also fly out, West said. The science foundation will not identify the workers, who are employees of Lockheed Martin which handles logistics at the station, nor their medical conditions.
There have been three emergency evacuations from the Amundsen-Scott station since 1999. Workers at the South Pole station are isolated from February through October, the coldest and darkest months when it’s too risky for routine flights.
The latest mission is pushing the limits of what is acceptable, said Tim Stockings, operations director at the British Antarctic Survey in London. He said being prepared is key.
“The air and Antarctica are unforgiving environments and punishes any slackness very hard,” Stockings said. “If you are complacent it will bite you.”
“Things can change very quickly down there” with ice from clouds, high winds and snow, he said.
The first day of winter in the Southern Hemisphere was on Monday — the sun will not rise at the South Pole till the first day of spring in September. A South Pole webcam showed the station in the distance during the landing. There was some light because of the full moon and the ability of the camera to operate on low light, West said.