A rescue aircraft sent to evacuate an American scientist who had fallen ill at a research outpost in Antarctica successfully arrived back in New Zealand on Thursday morning. The patient was then to be transferred to a local hospital for urgent surgery.
The A319 Airbus from the Australian Antarctic Division research programme began its five-hour journey from New Zealand on Wednesday and made a landing on an ice runway known as Pegasus, near the McMurdo station where the scientist was based.
The rescue flight was flown into Antarctica under risky weather conditions with temperatures as low as -30 degrees Celsius. Flights to Antarctica are usually only made in the summer but the National Science Foundation (NSF) said the patient, who is a member of one of its projects, may require “immediate corrective surgery.” NSF also said they were unable to reveal any details about the scientist’s name, gender, age or illness due to privacy reasons.
Antarctica is just emerging from its six-month-long night with a period of twilight at midday. This is said to have helped the pilots make a successful landing on the ice runway.
According to the US Antarctic Programme’s website, the McMurdo station, built in 1955, is its main station in Antarctica and is the “primary logistics facility for supply of inland stations and remote field camps, and is also the waste management centre for much of the US Antarctic Programme.” Every year, several summer science projects are supported at McMurdo.
Medical evacuations from Antarctica are rare; the last such rescue to take place was in October 2011 when a US scientist, Renee-Nicole Douceur, was evacuated two months after she had suffered a stroke. But the most famous rescue was of Dr. Jerri Nielsen in 1999. She diagnosed herself with breast cancer and also performed her own biopsy procedure using chemotherapy supplies delivered by parachute from the US Air Force until she could finally be reached.