Thursday, August 09, 2012

Plane uses ice runway to evacuate American from Antarctic outpost

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An Australian team successfully evacuated a member of a U.S. government Antarctic expedition in apparent need of urgent surgery on Thursday, after a rare mid-winter emergency flight involving landing on an ice runway.

"The patient has been taken to (a) hospital for treatment in Christchurch," spokeswoman Patti Lucas of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) research program told NBC News. Australian officials did not have details about the expeditioner's age or sex, she added.

The pilots took advantage of the short twilight to land the plane, after completing the most perilous part of its journey when it touched down after the five-hour flight from Christchurch, New Zealand, The Australian reported.

An Australian medical team has used favourable weather conditions in Antarctica to airlift an American from the US McMurdo station.

The Australian Antarctic Division's (AAD) Airbus A319 is on its way to New Zealand after an hour on the ground at the base.

Temperatures hit -25C at McMurdo but conditions otherwise were described as "perfect" for the jet to land at the base after a five-hour flight from Christchurch.

The five-member Australian team arrived around 11am (AEST) on Thursday and left just after midday, taking advantage of a brief twilight as Antarctica emerges from its six-month-long dark winter.

US staff prepared the ice runway, known as Pegasus. It is one of a handful in Antarctica that can land wheeled aircraft.

The AAD received a call for help from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) on Wednesday.

"The patient, whose identity NSF is not releasing, is currently stable but may require immediate corrective surgery best delivered at a more capable facility than is available at McMurdo," a statement from NSF said.

"The facility at McMurdo is equivalent to an urgent-care centre in the US and is not equipped for the type of procedure being contemplated."

The NSF would not disclose the nature of the illness or injury.

The patient was being treated on board the aeroplane and was expected to receive more medical help in Christchurch.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force provided search and rescue coverage for the flight.

McMurdo is the main US Antarctic base and is on the southern tip of Ross Island 3800km south of Christchurch and 1360km north of the South Pole.

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