CALGARY – An air medical mission to Antarctica is getting nearer to its destination.
A worker at the National Science Foundation’s research station at the South Pole requires hospitalization and needs to be evacuated.
Foundation spokesman Peter West says there’s another patient who may also need to be taken out, but that decision has yet to be made.
West says two Twin Otter planes owned by Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air made it to Rothera, a British station on the Antarctic peninsula, on Monday.
“The crew were resting up there but they were also putting the skis on the plane needed to land at South Pole and now they will await favourable weather there to fly to Pole,” West said Tuesday morning from Arlington, Va.
The planes face another 2,400 kilometres, or about 10 hours, to get to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.
“They will not fly there and back in one flight,” West said. “They will fly to Pole, spend some time on the ground and return back as soon as they can.”
The first patient is a seasonal employee with Lockheed Martin who requires hospitalization and must be evacuated, and that’s all officials will say. West says no other details about both patients will be released due to patient confidentiality.
It’s mid-winter in Antarctica and the foundation says flights in and out of the station are usually not planned between February and October due to extreme cold and darkness.
There is no tarmac runway at the Pole, so aircraft must land in total darkness on compacted snow.
“The planes are rated to operate in temperatures as low as -75 Celsius, generally at Pole its about -60 C at this time of year but it fluctuates,” West said.
Kenn Borek provides contractual logistical support to the Antarctic Program, according to the foundation, and conducted similar evacuations in 2001 and 2003.
The foundation says one plane will fly to the Pole and retrieve the sick worker, while the other will remain at Rothera to provide search-and-rescue capability if needed.