Australian Antarctic Division Director, Kim Ellis, said operations are underway to evacuate the patient using a logistical network of ships, helicopters and planes covering thousands of kilometres of the Antarctic continent.
“The Chinese icebreaker MV Xue Long 2 is on its way to the Chinese station and will stop at Davis, so we can use the ship’s helicopters to help transfer the patient to a ski-way inland of the station,” Mr Ellis said.
“A United States ski-equipped Basler aircraft will then fly 2,200 kilometres from the US station McMurdo to Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome, near Casey station, where it will pick up an Australian doctor.”
“The plane will then fly on to Davis station, a 2,800 kilometre round trip, to pick up the patient and return to Wilkins Aerodrome,” he said.
After that, the patient will either be transferred to Australia’s Airbus A319 and flown back to Hobart, or if the ice temperatures are not cold enough for a plane to land, return by ship in January.
“The operation is particularly difficult due to COVID-19 precautions, availability of weather windows and the lead times required to prepare both the Davis skiway and the ice runway at Wilkins,” Mr Ellis said.
Australia does not have small ski-equipped intra-continental aircraft this summer, due to concerns over introducing COVID to Antarctica.
“This operation is a testament to the strong international cooperation that exists in Antarctica, where nations band together and support each other in what can be a hostile and challenging environment,” said Mr Ellis.
The crews on both the United States and Chinese aircraft have undergone a period of quarantine prior to reaching Antarctica and will maintain a social distance during the operation and undertake a deep clean of the aircraft.
The medical condition is not COVID-19 related.
The next update will be posted on the Australian Antarctic Division website www.antarctica.gov.au at 1400 AEST on 20 December 2020.
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