A Kenn Borek Air Ltd. Twin Otter taxies down the airstrip at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The airplane was arriving as part of a meticulously planned, carefully executed, National Science Foundation-led medical evacuation that resulted in successfully evacuating two patients, despite extreme conditions. [Image 2 of 6 related images. See Image 3.]
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In June 2016, the National Science Foundation (NSF), after consulting with outside medical experts, determined that an evacuation was warranted for two people stationed at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. The extreme cold and darkness at this time of year in Antarctica normally means that flights in and out of the station are suspended. NSF called on Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air Ltd., which has a U.S. government contract to fly in support of U.S. Antarctic Program science, to conduct the mission.
Two Twin Otter aircraft, designed to withstand intense weather conditions, arrived at British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Station on the Antarctic Peninsula on June 20, 2016, where they rested and awaited favorable weather. On June 22, one of the aircraft arrived at the geographic South Pole. Later that day, the flight landed safely in Punta Arenas, Chile, where the evacuees would receive medical treatment. The arrival completed a nine-day global evacuation operation that NSF coordinated to prioritize the health and safety of station and rescue personnel.
"NSF is committed to supporting scientific exploration--which often requires researchers and support staff working in some of the most inhospitable places on the planet--but our top commitment is to the safety and security of the people involved in those endeavors," said NSF Director France Córdova. "This was a difficult process, and we're especially grateful to the skilled flight crew who flew almost halfway around the world and over three continents, for the South Pole Station winter crew, and all the dedicated people who facilitated this rescue. It has served as a sobering reminder of the risks research often requires, the tremendous challenges involved, and the resolve and solidarity of the scientific community."
NSF operates the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as part of its management of the U.S. Antarctic Program, the nation's research program on the southernmost continent. (Date image taken: June 22, 2016; date originally posted to NSF Multimedia Gallery: March 1, 2017)