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Fri, Aug 10, 2012

A319 Lands On Antarctic Ice In Rescue Mission

Person At McMurdo Research Station Needed Medical Attention

An Airbus A319 made a dramatic flight to Antarctica Thursday to evacuate a person in need of medical attention from McMurdo Station (shown below during summer months). The crew had to wait for a break in the harsh Antarctic winter and land on a runway built of ice during a narrow "twilight" window during the near 24-hour darkness this time of year.

Then consider that the temperatures Thursday during the operation hovered at -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

CNN reports that the United States sought assistance from an Australian medical team for the evacuation of the researcher, who was not identified. The plane was dispatched from Christchurch, New Zealand and arrived at the research station early in the afternoon local time. It was on the ground a little more than an hour before departing back to Christchurch.

In a news release prior to the flight, the National Science Foundation said that it had reached an agreement with the Australian Antarctic Division, which manages Australia's Antarctic research program, to make the Australian A319 available to fly the patient out. The Royal New Zealand Air Force agreed to provide search-and-rescue coverage for the flight to and from McMurdo Station. The agency said that prior to the flight, the patient was stable but could require corrective surgery beyond what could be provided by medical personnel at the station.

The three nations' Antarctic research programs have existing agreements under which such assets may be shared as needed.

The ice runway, known as Pegasus, is one of only a very few runways in Antarctica that can accommodate wheeled aircraft. Antarctica is currently emerging from its six-months-long night, so there is a period of twilight at mid-day that could assist pilots in landing on the ice runway.

The evacuation flight comes shortly before a regularly-scheduled series of late winter flights to prepare for the coming Antarctic research season, which gets underway in October.

(Image Credit: Peter Rejcek, National Science Foundation)

FMI: www.nsf.gov

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