Plane lands to rescue four Americans in Antarctica
A New Zealand Air Force plane landed safely on an ice runway at a US Antarctic research station on Tuesday 24th April, carrying out a risky mission to rescue four ailing Americans.
But research officials said seven more Americans would be joining the four evacuees.
'Right now, the count is 11 people coming out, for various reasons.'
said John Sherve, the New Zealand manager for their employer, US-based Raytheon Polar Services.
'The primary purpose of the mission is emergency medical evacuation of one employee.'
He declined to comment on the patients' conditions, but New Zealand air force sources said one man had a serious heart condition that required urgent hospital treatment.
The C130 Hercules arrived at McMurdo Station after a seven-hour flight from Christchurch, in southern New Zealand, he said.
The McMurdo airlift came hours after blowing snow, high winds and low visibility prevented another emergency airlift from taking off for the South Pole, where a sick American doctor is waiting for a flight out for urgent treatment.
The New Zealand plane transporting the 11 Americans was to spend just one hour on the ground at McMurdo to refuel. Its engines would be kept running throughout the stopover to prevent them freezing in the minus 22 temperatures.
With little cloud and no wind, weather conditions were good for the rescue mission. Bad weather conditions on the Antarctic coast had earlier delayed the rescue mission by 24 hours.
'Several of the evacuees will need medical treatment.'
Sherve said. A medical staff of five, including an anaesthetist, was on the evacuation mission.
All 11 are employees of Raytheon, which provides support services at the McMurdo Base, 800 miles (1,287km) from the South Pole1
In the separate rescue effort, Ronald S Shemenski, at the Amundsen Scott-South Pole station, is the only physician among 50 researchers working there. He recently suffered a gall bladder attack and has been diagnosed with the potentially life-threatening condition known as pancreatitis.
An eight-seat, twin-engine plane fitted with skis for landing gear was scheduled to fly as early as tomorrow from the Rothera research station on the Antarctic peninsula to pick up the 59-year-old doctor.
Flights to the South Pole station are normally halted from late February until November because of the extreme winter cold and darkness. But the rescuers worried that Shemenski's condition would worsen in the coming months, when an airlift out of the South Pole would be virtually impossible.
'The wind's blowing like hell. We're getting reduced visibility and blowing snow. If the winds calm down and there's less cloud cover, we'll get better visibility.'
said Steve Penikett, general manager of Kenn Borek Air Ltd, the Canadian airline company leading the evacuation for the doctor.
Aviation experts say a landing at the South Pole now is especially dangerous with temperatures around 75 degrees below zero - 143 below with the wind chill - and skies are nearly pitch-black some 20 hours of the day.