Antarctic nations working together

Australia's A319 on the Pegasus runway at McMurdo Station, Antarctica
Australia's A319 on the Pegasus runway at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. (File Photo, National Science Foundation)
The Australian medical team step off the A319 at Hobart airportAustralian Antarctic Division Director Tony Fleming gives a press conference at the Hobart airport

10th August 2012

Environment Minister Tony Burke has commended Australia’s effort in repatriating an unwell expeditioner from McMurdo Station, America’s base in Antarctica.

On Tuesday the Australian Antarctic Division was contacted by the United States’ National Science Foundation seeking advice on what assistance could be provided in transporting the expeditioner to New Zealand for medical reasons.

The Division in collaboration with its Airbus A319 operator, Skytraders, was able to provide the required assistance and set about putting plans into place.

By Wednesday a medical team had been assembled and dispatched by the Airbus to Christchurch in New Zealand from where the aircraft departed for McMurdo Station on Thursday morning.

While this is the first time a rescue of this kind has taken place at this time of year in Antarctica, weather conditions were perfect for landing and subsequent take-off for return with the patient to Christchurch on Thursday evening.

Mr Burke praised the seamless operation as one of typical cooperation between Antarctic nations.

“Working in the Antarctic is all about cooperation and emergency situations are no different,” Mr Burke said.

“We collaborate with the United States and other Antarctic nations frequently such as on matters of science.

“I can only praise the Australian Antarctic Division on its swift and professional approach in pulling together a specialist medical team and working with its aircraft operators to make this rescue happen so quickly.

“The Antarctic Division kept me personally updated during these operations and their professionalism has been second to none.”

Media conference

Footage shows the arrival in Hobart of the Airbus A319 following the medical evacuation of an expeditioner from McMurdo station to Christchurch, New Zealand. It includes excerpts from a media conference held at Hobart Airport with Australian Antarctic Director Dr Tony Fleming, AAD Aviation Manager Aaron Read and Captain Garry Studd of Skytraders.

[Video]

Medical evacuation of an expeditioner from McMurdo station

Video transcript

Dr Tony Fleming:

We were asked on Tuesday by the US National Science foundation whether we would be able to offer assistance to repatriate a US expeditioner that had medical issues, and we were able to provide assistance.

We have an A319 which is operated by Skytraders and we had the medical team available, and we were able to fly down yesterday morning, in the early hours of yesterday morning, and fly down to McMurdo station and then fly back.

It was a textbook case of an evacuation in Antarctica during the middle of winter.

Aaron Read:

We had a very fine time window due to light (or very little light). The weather was very kind to us and basically we were able to successfully do the mission as planned, with very little delay.

Preparing the Pegasus runway, they have a crew wintering over down there. They have a small camp that gets set up, and they basically just groom an area of glacial ice to a certain specification.

Captain Garry Studd:

We train for this and we're just extremely happy that because of the co-operation internationally that we've had a successful outcome.

All Antarctic operations depend very much on the weather. We were lucky in that the timing, we got all our ducks in a row at the same time; the right period of daylight, the right weather.

The guys on the ice, to get the runway ready (though they had started for future operations) did a phenomenal job in some pretty nasty conditions. So they were the ones that did the work.

I'd like to thank the guys that travelled with us – all the doctors and medical team. In an operation like this we all work together, we all have our expertise, and they were fantastic.

Dr Tony Fleming:

In closing, this was a complex operation and it was done very smoothly. I just wanted to thank our collaborators: with the United States, New Zealand, all the medical team from the Royal Hobart Hospital and particularly, and last-but-not-least, our staff from the Australian Antarctic Division.

They have exceptional skills, they train for these sort of events and they have a wealth of experience in Antarctica. That’s why, with all that collaboration, with all the skills of our own staff and with skills of the staff from the Royal Hobart hospital; that’s why this operation was a success.

[end transcript]