Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

By David Ganezer
Observer Staff Writer 

South Pole: Winter Rescue Underway in Antarctica

Two planes sent to Antarctic Peninsula, in case of them crashes.

 

Twin Otter plane landing in Antarctica

Update: After a 9 hour, 1500 mile flight, the first Twin Otter plane has successfully landed at South Pole Station. The outside temperature is 73 degrees, and there is as expected, no light. The Twin Otter plane has departed for Rothera with both patients on board.

It is the coldest and strangest place on the planet. For three months, there will be no daylight. Yet one man's health requires other people to risk their lives, in the first winter over evacuation at South Pole Scott Amundsen Station in 13 years.

Rescuers will attempt to reach an ill private contractor at the American Research Station at the South Pole. Two small planes equipped with skis landed at Britain's Rothera Station on the Antarctic Peninsula Monday. One Canadian Twin Otter plane will attempt to fly to the pole, while the other waits to rescue the first plane should it crash land in total darkness.

Flying to the South Pole is never easy. The airstrip is in thin air more than 2 miles above sea level, on the ice. Weather conditions are variable; the wind has nothing in it's way for miles. The current air temperature is -60 degrees Farenheit.

The Antarctic Peninsula is the banana belt by the standards of the icy continent. Plants like mosses and fungus grow in the brief summer, which takes place in November, December, January and February. Now, even the peninsula is dark year round.

In 1999, the South Pole Station's doctor self diagnosed with breast cancer. She had to operate on herself and wait until October to be evacuated.

Screengrab of airplane landing at Scott Amundsen South Pole Station during the summer.

Only 57 people are wintering over at the U.S. South Pole research station, which is important to scientists because it is one of only two places on the Earth's surface where the earth's magnetic field falls. The other is in the middle of the Arctic Sea.

A mid winter evacuation from the south Pole was flown only twice before in 2001 and 2003. Sean Loutit, a former Kenn Borek Air pilot, flew on both missions.

"We faced sort of similar conditions to what the guys will be facing this week, which is cold temperatures and no light whatsoever down at the South Pole," Loutit said.

Dr. Ron Shemenski was evacuated from the research facility in 2001 because of a gallbladder infection.

"So the skis heat up and when the plane stopped, it froze to the ice which we weren't expecting," Shemenski said. "So when it was time to leave, we were stuck. We couldn't get the plane loose."

 

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