The Australian Antarctic Division has successfully completed a complex and challenging medical evacuation of an Australian expeditioner from Antarctica.

The medevac was a multinational effort involving the Australian, United States and Chinese Antarctic Programs, using a logistical network of ships, helicopters and planes covering thousands of kilometres in east Antarctica.

AAD Director Kim Ellis said the five-day operation reflects the very best of international cooperation in Antarctica.

“Antarctica really brings nations together to support each other in our operations,” Mr Ellis said.

“We’ve been doing these medevacs for a long time, but this particular operation was in the very best spirit of that multinational cooperation.”

Fortunately for the operation, the Chinese icebreaker MV Xue Long 2 was in transit to Zhongshan station, near Davis research station. The ship’s helicopters were deployed to transfer a team from Davis to a site 40 kilometres inland to build a ski-way, before transferring the patient.

A United States ski-equipped Basler aircraft flew 2200 kilometres from the US station McMurdo to Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome, near Casey station, where it picked up an Australian doctor.

The plane then flew to the ski-way near Davis station, a 2800 kilometre round trip, to transfer the patient and return to Wilkins Aerodrome.

Australia’s Airbus A319 flew from Hobart to Wilkins Aerodrome to pick up the patient, returning to Hobart on the afternoon of 24 December.

Australia does not have small ski-equipped intra-continental aircraft this summer, due to concerns over introducing COVID-19 to Antarctica.

“We’re extraordinarily grateful to the Chinese and US Antarctic Programs for the fact that they were able to change their operating models and come to our assistance,” said Mr Ellis.

“I’m particularly grateful to the Australian expeditioners who displayed courage and resilience and skill, deploying to remote airfields and ski-ways and working in tough conditions.”

“The synergy of operating capabilities, incredible expertise and a favourable weather window enabled us to bring the patient back from Antarctica to Australia within a week,” he said.

The patient’s medical condition is not COVID-19 related. For reasons of medical confidentiality, no further information about the patient will be provided.

For broadcast: A video statement by Kim Ellis and vision of the aircraft and logistics involved in the medevac are available for download from cloudstor.

Due to Christmas, additional interviews are not available.

Contact: media@antarctica.gov.au

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