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ARLINGTON, Va.— A private pilot who landed at the main U.S. research station in Antarctica without sufficient fuel to continue his flight to South America will be offered passage back to New Zealand on a regularly scheduled flight, U.S. National Science Foundation representatives and their New Zealand counterparts said today.
The officials also are discussing the possibility of sending the pilot's aircraft back aboard a supply ship that normally visits the station in February at the end of each research season. In keeping with U.S. policy toward private expeditions in Antarctica, NSF will charge the pilot, Jon Johanson, for the costs of the flight to New Zealand and for shipping his aircraft.
Johanson, an Australian citizen, apparently was attempting to fly from New Zealand to South America over Antarctica, when he landed at McMurdo Station, NSF's logistics hub in Antarctica, on Dec. 8.
Strong head winds forced him to abandon his intended destination, fearing he would not have enough fuel to complete his journey. Upon arriving at McMurdo, he told U.S. officials that he did not have enough fuel to continue and requested to buy some.
Because officials at McMurdo Station or at New Zealand's Scott Base weren't informed of the flight, no preparations were made for an emergency landing.
Under an agreement between the two nations, both the U.S. and New Zealand provide C-130 cargo aircraft to transport scientific and logistics personnel and cargo to Antarctic during the research season, which begins in late October and ends in February. In this case, it was agreed that Johanson would be allowed to fly north on one of the returning flights, which are scheduled several times a week.
"We have extended the pilot the normal courtesies routinely offered by New Zealand and U.S. stations in Antarctica," said Lou Sanson, the chief executive officer of Antarctica New Zealand (ANZ), the national scientific research program. "The pilot should have made the decision to abandon his original flight plans much sooner when faced with these weather conditions and returned to Invercargill in New Zealand."
Neither NSF nor Antarctica New Zealand, both of which are government-funded scientific research programs, supply or stock fuel for private individuals. NSF's policy is that private expeditions should carry sufficient insurance to cover the costs of search and rescue efforts, if needed.
Had Johanson failed to reach McMurdo safely, the U.S. and New Zealand programs would have had to mount search-and-rescue efforts at considerable cost and risk not only to the search-and rescue teams, but also to scientific field teams who might have required those resources.
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