An unusual and logistically challenging helicopter resupply operation is nearly complete for Mawson research station in Antarctica.

Australia’s Antarctic stations are normally resupplied by ship, but due to heavy ice conditions this year, Mawson research station is receiving its annual fuel, supplies and personnel changeover by helicopter.

The Australian Antarctic Division’s resupply ship, the Aurora Australis, is stationed at the edge of the continental fast-ice approximately 40 nautical miles from Mawson research station, with helicopters ferrying station staff and essential cargo from the ship to shore.

Australian Antarctic Division Director Dr Tony Fleming said it has been a massive effort by operational staff to gear up for an aerial resupply, which has not happened for a number of years, and so late in the season.

“This year the sea-ice around Mawson didn’t break out, meaning we had to reconfigure and reschedule the resupply voyage for a fly-off operation.

“Cargo is being sling-loaded underneath the helicopters and taken ashore, across the ice. It’s all running really smoothly,” Dr Fleming said.

The ship left Hobart on 9 March with 70 tonnes of priority cargo, 50 000 litres of fuel and four B3 helicopters.

Since reaching the ice edge and commencing operations on 26 March, 163 helicopter flights have taken place to transport personnel, all the priority cargo and fuel ashore.

The fifteen ingoing station staff have now been flown in to relieve the 21 personnel currently on station, some of whom will be returning to Australia for the first time in over a year.

“We have now got about two days’ flying left to go to complete the resupply, and the ship is due to get back to Hobart on 2 May, but depending on ice conditions hopefully sooner,” Dr Fleming said.