Kenn Borek South Pole Crew shares evacuation mission

For the first time, the Aircrew, who performed a medical evacuation during the dark mid-Winter at the Amundsen-Scott Station, speak about their experience.

Yesterday the Kenn Borek Aircrew for the first time spoke about their South Pole medical-evacuation mission to the US Amundsen-Scott SP Station. All in all the mission took 22 days, since the first call till they were back home at Borek’s base in Calgary, Canada. The flight on Antarctica, Rothera to South Pole, took neary 10 hours.

This is the third rescue mission that Kenn Borek Air conducted outside of the Antarctic Summer season, but the first one in the middle of the 24-hour dark Winter.

Apart from the darkness and the extreme cold (-60ºC at the Pole, without the wind-chill), the flight was not much different from summer, said the pilots. They are used to flying in Antarctica and have up to 16 Borek plane on the Continent from October to February.

During the flight they were busy with standard procedures and monitoring the instruments. Thinking of where they were while looking at co-ordinates, the crew knew when they were near Union Glacier [ANI/ALE main camp for skiers, climbers, scientists], and at 85º they knew they were near Theils and the Mountains were down there. They were always thinking of what was coming up and stayed ahead of things, said Flight Captain Wallace Dopchuk.

The major challenge was, as always, the weather. They reportedly used celestial navigation as part of their navigation. All they had was the full moon reflecting on the snow. 30 miles out from the South Pole Station, they could see the lights at the Science Base. After landing at the Pole, the crew immediately prepared the plane for the cold overnight and to be ready the next morning.

The Aircrew pointed out that there were more people involved to make this mission happen and succeed. Pilot, Captain Jim Huffy, said it felt like a relay, for example landing at Rothera, checking the flight plan and weather, while others were preparing the plane with skis and on the return with wheels again.

The crew next job is on Baffin Island, and in October they are flying South to Antarctica again.

Check the multiple videos on CTV News.


The Kenn Borek Air Twin Otters that left Calgary (Canada) on June 14, 2016, to attempt a medical evacuation at the Geographic South Pole (90ºS). They arrived at The British Antarctic Science Base, Rothera, on June 20, where they were fitted with skis to land on snow and ice.

The aircrew took advantage of a favorable weather window to leave at approximately 8am on June 21 and arrived at the South Pole Station safely later in the day. The other plane remained at Rothera to provide search-and-rescue capability, as needed. The South Pole plane flew back to Rothera on June 22, with two patients.

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 is 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 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 BiCEP2 telescope, 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.


Photos of South Pole landing; Twin Otter in Punta Arenas

South Pole evacuation plane at Rothera

Kenn Borek Twin Otter left South Pole on medical-evacuation

Kenn Borek plane in the air, and landed at the South Pole

Ken Borek Air South Pole Rescue: Updated

Kenn Borek South Pole Evacuation Flight Launched

Midwinter living on the edge: ExWeb interview with Sven Lidstrom at the South Pole

The Coldest place on Earth

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