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News Release 04-045

Medical Evacuation Flight Dispatched to Antarctica

April 8, 2004

This material is available primarily for archival purposes. Telephone numbers or other contact information may be out of date; please see current contact information at media contacts.

Arlington, Va.—National Science Foundation (NSF) officials have asked the U.S. Air Force to send a transport jet to Antarctica to evacuate several people from McMurdo Station, the main U.S. research station on the continent. The flight will allow the patients to receive a level of treatment that is unavailable at McMurdo.

An Air Force reserve C-141 from March Air Reserve base in Riverside, Calif., is expected to arrive in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Thursday afternoon (EDT). The plane will fly to Antarctica as soon as conditions and operating requirements permit.

The patients—whose names and specific conditions are confidential—will be flown back to New Zealand and eventually back to the United States. The conditions of the individuals requiring evacuation are unrelated.

The evacuation flight will carry workers to replace the patients.

A doctor, a physician's assistant and a physical therapist serve the 191 people spending the winter at McMurdo, NSF's logistics hub on the continent. A telemedicine link allows medical personnel at the station to consult with experts in the United States about diagnoses and treatments.

An assessment of the patients' conditions, however, indicates it would be safest to continue treatment at a more advanced facility.

NSF also has requested that a Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) C-130 turboprop aircraft stand by in Christchurch, New Zealand, as a search-and-rescue (SAR) aircraft for the duration of the medical flight. The use of a SAR aircraft is standard procedure when flying over Antarctica.

NSF is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering, with an annual budget of nearly $5.58 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 universities and institutions.

NSF manages the U.S. Antarctic Program and coordinates all U.S. scientific research on the southernmost continent. Under an agreement between the United States and New Zealand, both nations provide C-130 cargo aircraft to transport scientific and logistics personnel and cargo to Antarctica.

Although the months-long darkness of Antarctic winter is approaching, there are still 7 to 8 hours of daylight each day at McMurdo.

Workers in McMurdo have prepared a runway, called Pegasus, to receive the wheeled aircraft and ensured the appropriate landing lights and other equipment are in position for safe operations.

From late February until October, McMurdo Station, located on Ross Island is normally closed to the outside world—except for a few flights in late August.


Media Contacts
Peter West, NSF, (703) 292-7761, email:
Donald Traud, March Air Reserve Base, (909) 655-4138, email:

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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