South Pole evacuation plane at Rothera

The Kenn Borek aircrew brought the 2 South Pole patients safe to Rothera Base at the Antarctic Peninsula

Nasional Science Foundation press release June 22:

The Twin Otter aircraft flying an Antarctic medical evacuation mission has 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) this 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 yesterday 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.


The Kenn Borek Air Twin Otters that left Calgary (Canada) on June14 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.

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 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.


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