Gateway Gazette

Antarctic Medical Evacuation Flight Arrives at British Rothera Station

Twin Otter carrying two patients left South Pole early Wednesday morning

Otter
A Twin Otter aircraft on a medical evacuation flight on the ice at NSF’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Credit: Robert Schwarz, National Science Foundation.

The Twin Otter aircraft flying an Antarctic medical evacuation mission arrived at the British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Station.

The plane, carrying two patients, arrived at Rothera at approximately 1:15 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) yesterday afternoon. The plane left the National Science Foundation (NSF) Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in the early morning hours of June 22 EDT.

The aircraft arrived Tuesday afternoon at the station, at which point the crew began a 10-hour rest period. Following crew rest, the team checked the weather at both the pole and Rothera and decided conditions warranted flying immediately north.

NSF determined that, to mitigate risks, the team would use the opportunity to evacuate a second patient. Both patients are seasonal employees through Lockheed Martin Antarctic Support Contract, the prime contract for operations and research support to NSF for the U.S. Antarctic Program.

Both patients now will be flown to a medical facility that provides a level of care not available at the South Pole. NSF is not discussing any details of the patients’ medical conditions or providing any personal details.

otter taxi
A Twin Otter aircraft on a medical evacuation flight taxis on the skiway at NSF’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. Credit: Robert Schwarz, National Science Foundation.

Original Press Release:

South Pole medical evacuation flight launched Plane to fly patient out of Antarctica for treatment unavailable on the continent

June 14, 2016

OTTER01.5-HR
In this 2003 photo, a Twin Otter flies out of the South Pole on a previous medical flight. Credit: Credit: Photo by Jason Medley, NSF

Officials with the National Science Foundation (NSF) have launched a medical evacuation flight to NSF’s scientific station at the geographic South Pole.

After comprehensive consultation with outside medical professionals, agency officials decided that a medical situation at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station warrants returning a member of the station’s winter crew to a hospital that can provide a level of medical care that is unavailable at the station.

The patient is seasonally employed through the Lockheed Martin Antarctic Support Contract (ASC), the prime contract for operations and research support contractor to NSF for the United States Antarctic Program (USAP). NSF is not releasing any further personal or medical information to preserve the patient’s privacy.

Two propeller-driven Twin Otter aircraft, operated by Kenn Borek Air, Ltd., a Canadian firm that provides contractual logistical support to the Antarctic Program, left Calgary this morning on the first leg of an intercontinental flight to the Pole.

The mission will be highly weather-dependent and the current best-case scenario is that a plane would arrive at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station no sooner than June 19.

Drawing on the support of other national Antarctic programs, NSF has approved a plan under which the aircraft will fly from Canada via South America to Rothera, a research station on the Antarctic Peninsula managed by the British Antarctic Survey.

One of the aircraft will remain at Rothera to provide search-and-rescue capability, while the other aircraft will fly the roughly 1,500 miles from Rothera to the Pole to pick up the patient.

It currently is mid-winter in Antarctica. Normally, flights in and out of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station are not planned between February and October due to the extreme cold and darkness.

Kenn Borek, however, has the experience of flying two similar medical evacuation flights — one in 2001 and another in 2003.

The Twin Otter aircraft that Kenn Borek flies are able to operate in extremely low temperatures and are able to land on skis. As there is no tarmac runway at the South Pole, the aircraft must land in total darkness on compacted snow.

Because of the complexity of the operation, the evacuation will require contributions from multiple entities involved in the U.S. Antarctic Program including weather forecasts from the U.S. Navy’s Space and Naval Warfare Systems (SPAWAR) Center Atlantic; expertise from the University of Texas Medical Branch; and various contributions from ASC, NSF’s Colorado-based Antarctic logistics contractor as well as assistance from other nations.

Amundsen-Scott Research Station South PoleAmundsen-Scott is one of three year-round stations NSF operates in Antarctica in its role as manager the U.S. Antarctic Program, the nation’s research program on the southernmost continent.

There are 48 people wintering at Amundsen-Scott, performing a variety of tasks related to station maintenance and science. These include overseeing long-term monitoring of the atmosphere and its constituent gases — such as methane and carbon dioxide — and scientific observations by two radio telescopes; the 10-meter South Pole Telescope and the BICEP/Keck telescopes, which are using the Cosmic Microwave Background to investigate the early history of the universe, including investigations of dark energy and dark matter that makes up most of the cosmos. Also included is the Ice Cube Neutrino Observatory, which is designed to observe subatomic particles, produced by some of the most violent and exotic cosmic phenomena, including black holes.

About the NSF

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2016, its budget is $7.5 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 48,000 competitive proposals for funding and makes about 12,000 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $626 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

About Kenn Borek Air

Gallery16Kenn Borek Air Ltd. started with a vision by one man… Kenn Borek. Born and raised on a farm in Stettler, AB, Borek has been described as a true pioneer. Starting with one tractor in 1955, Borek worked hard clearing land for farmers in the Peace Country and worked with the oil industry pulling water trucks, supplies, cutting seismic lines and site preparation for drill rigs.

As the Arctic was being explored and developed, Borek followed and in 1970 started his airline, Kenn Borek Air Ltd. (KBAL). Now KBAL, a Calgary-based airline, has one of the largest Twin Otter fleets in the world and provides a comprehensive service with its turbo prop fleet.

We are best known for our remote polar services utilizing ski equipped Twin Otter. KBAL provides a wide range of additional services including medevac, survey, paradrop, float operations, third party maintenance and overhaul.

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