Antarctic medevacs wait on weather


Christchurch, New Zealand. 23 April 2001
Aircraft and support crews are set for two separate hazardous off-season medical evacuations of American personnel from Antarctica, but must wait upon good weather for their missions.

The delays are not thought to threaten the health of evacuees, but with the passage of time, colder weather and less natural light can be expected as Antarctica descends rapidly into winter.

At Rothera on the peninsula, a Twin Otter aircraft was prepared to make a ski-equipped 10 hour flight to the Amundsen Scott South Pole base, retrieve its ailing physician, Dr Ronald Shemenski, and deposit a replacement. The aircraft is planned to shut down at the pole for another 10 hours before making the flight back.

It and a companion aircraft for search and rescue back-up arrived at the British base on 21 April after flying from Canada via Punta Arenas, Chile. British Antarctic Survey meteorologists are said to be liaising with the US Antarctic Program, and immediate forecasts have not been encouraging.

The opportunity was also being taken at Rothera to switch landing gear to skis, according to one report.

A separate flight was scheduled to be made from Christchurch today by wheeled Royal New Zealand Air Force Hercules to airlift four Americans, some of whom the National Science Foundation said were in need of medical attention.

The operation is now on a rolling 24 hour review as flight planners look for a clear weather window at McMurdo to give the Hercules maximum opportunity for a landing and one hour turn-around. --