Medal for bold flight

23:38, Jun 13 2012
TOP PILOT: Squadron Leader Aaron Benton of Whenuapai is being recognised with a medal for his rescue mission in this P-3K Orion.

A Whenuapai pilot is being decorated for leading a dangerous rescue mission to Antarctica.

Squadron Leader Aaron Benton has been awarded a New Zealand Distinguished Service Decoration for his services to the New Zealand Defence Force.

The P-3K Orion instructor pilot was charged with the aero evacuation of a critically ill man from McMurdo Station in the perilous conditions of an Antarctic winter.

The 39-year-old and a crew left Christchurch on September 12, 2010 to rescue a United States worker needing specialist surgery.

A blowing blizzard prompted his decision to turn back.

Two days later the weather cleared and he made a successful landing during a season when no aircraft flew to Antarctica.


The crew battled temperatures of minus 55 degree Celsius.

"Exposed skin gets frostbite in a couple of minutes so we had to be completely covered," Mr Benton says.

Hot air had to be blown on the aircraft landing equipment to prevent it from freezing.

Mr Benton's attention to detail kept the patient, crew and aircraft safe and led to his recognition in the latest Queen's Birthday and Diamond Jubilee Honours.

He feels proud to receive the medal.

"But like everything you do on the P3 there's credit to the whole crew and everybody involved in it.

"Many people did a lot of good work,"Mr Benton says.

The father of three has served the airforce for 17 years and loves the challenges he faces.

He has flown the Orion in search and rescue operations, hunting submarines, working on naval warships.

"They're really interesting missions to fly.

"The most rewarding thing is the natural pure flying because it's exciting and it's different every time." His career choice stemmed from childhood.

Mr Benton was a regular spectator at Whenuapai airshows from the age of 10.

The youngster was lured by the sight of flying aircraft, the speed and the noise.

His wide reaching missions have seen him fly over the North Pole, to Alaska and Scotland.

Norwest News