Work has begun on constructing two Antarctic ice runways to use in the medevac of a patient from Australia’s Davis research station.

Late yesterday a team of five, with more than 1000 kilograms of equipment, was flown by Chinese helicopter to the ski landing area, on the ice plateau behind Davis station.

The expeditioners will spend three to five days building the two kilometre ski-way to receive a Basler aircraft later in the week.

1,400 kilometres away at Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome, near Casey station, another crew of eight is preparing a three-and-a-half kilometre glacial runway.

Australian Antarctic Division Director, Kim Ellis, said this medevac is taking place across thousands of kilometres of the Antarctic continent, with the support of the Chinese and United States Antarctic Programs.

“We are really pleased this first stage of this multi-phased operation, involving helicopters, planes and ships, is underway,” Mr Ellis said.

“Both runway teams will be proof-rolling and tillering the landing surface, to ensure there is enough friction for planes to land.”

Australia does not have its own small intra-continental aviation this summer season due to COVID-19 precautions.

“A United States Basler will be used in the medevac, flying from McMurdo station to Wilkins Aerodrome in the next few days.”

“An Australian doctor will then join the crew, before flying a return trip to Davis to pick up the patient.”

“Of course overlaying this entire operation is the factor we can’t control, which is the Antarctic weather, but we are hoping the weather windows at both locations will line up.”

Once at Wilkins, the patient will either be transferred to Australia on the Airbus A319 and flown back to Hobart, or if the ice temperatures are not cold enough for a larger plane to land, return by ship in January.

Precautions to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 to Antarctica are being taken including periods of quarantine, social distancing and deep cleans of the aircraft being used.

The medical condition is not COVID-19 related.

The Australian Antarctic Division will provide an update when new information comes to hand.

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