Friday, January 25, 2013

de Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter 300 (C-GKBC), Kenn Borek Air: Antarctic search for 3 Canadians to resume if weather holds: Winds, cloud cover expected to diminish over next 12 hours

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Search and rescue workers from New Zealand say weather continues to improve, buoying hopes they'll be able to perform another flyover of an area in Antarctica and make visual contact with three stranded Canadians whose aircraft disappeared near the South Pole days ago. 

 The missing Twin Otter plane, operated by Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air, had been transmitting an emergency beacon signal since late Wednesday night, local time, but it now appears the battery has died.

Radio New Zealand spoke with Kevin Banaghan, part of the New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which is leading the rescue operation. Banaghan said the crew is aiming to try to get eyes on their target on Saturday.

"At the moment, the [weather] conditions have improved," he said. "Overnight, there were very high winds, up to [165 km/h]."
Banaghan said the fierce winds have since dropped, but rescuers will still have to deal with low cloud cover "and blowing snow — close to horizontal snow, which makes it difficult to get into position."

Those conditions are forecast to last for another 12 hours, he said.

Rescuers circled over the site of the signal Friday morning, near the northern end of the Queen Alexandra Range, but heavy cloud cover and winds prevented rescuers from making visual contact and the search was put on hold.

2 helicopters on standby

"When conditions ease, the intention is to set up a forward base at a location approximately 50 kilometres from the beacon site, from which to launch operations to the site," Banaghan said.

Steve Rendle, another official with the Rescue Co-ordination Centre, says skies are expected to clear Saturday morning, which should allow rescue teams to fly over the area.

The Twin Otter is believed to have been grounded roughly halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station, a U.S. research facility in Antarctica where two helicopters, equipped with mountain survival gear, remain on standby pending a change in the weather. 

 Winds in the area are expected to drop from 170 km/hr to 35 km/hr, with cloud cover forecasted to lift and become scattered.

The pilot of the missing aircraft has been identified by his wife, Lucy, as Bob Heath from Inuvik, N.W.T.

Mark Cary, a former pilot with the airline, said he flew with Heath on a number of occasions and described him as an experienced aviator who was well versed in cold-weather survival techniques.

"I’m very, very confident that if this crew indeed survived getting the aircraft on the ground that Bob is the kind of individual that would be able to survive until rescuers could get to him and his location," he said.

Kenn Borek Air hasn't confirmed the names of those aboard the aircraft.

Jim Pearce, a retired pilot with the company who flew with Heath described him as "probably one of the most experienced Antarctic pilots in the world today. It's a very very challenging place to work, and a very, very challenging place to fly."

He said that Kenn Borek Air would have provided the three Canadians with the best survival gear available.

"They'd have extreme cold weather gear available, and the most up-to-date survival packs," he said

The missing plane had been flying from the South Pole to an Italian base in Antarctica's Terra Nova Bay. A spokesman for the U.S. National Science Foundation has said the flight was in support of the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development.

'Not an easy place to get into'

Michael Flyger, a spokesman with New Zealand rescue centre said earlier Thursday that in addition to the long distances and the terrible weather conditions rescuers must face, the search effort will confront the issue of altitude.

When the rescue beacon was transmitting, it was coming from a location about 4,000 metres above sea level, Flyger said.

"With that comes problems around oxygen, comes problems around wind chill and temperatures," he said.

"Certainly, it's not an easy place to get into, but we've got some pretty good people who are absolutely itching to get in there and help to assist."

Read more and videos:

Avcanada: Plane missing in Antarctica:
Search for missing aircraft in Antarctica - updates:

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