Storm stymies Antarctic medical mission

DEIDRE MUSSEN
Last updated 05:00 15/10/2011

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An Antarctic storm has stymied efforts to fly a sick American woman from the South Pole to Christchurch for medical tests.

Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station winter site manager Renee-Nicole Douceur, who had a suspected stroke seven weeks ago, hoped a plane would pick her up yesterday.

However, she said yesterday that a storm over the British Rothera Research Station near the Antarctic Peninsula had prevented the Kenn Borek Air DC-3 Basler from flying there from Chile.

Rothera was its stop-off before it could fly to the South Pole to collect her.

Douceur said the weather was expected to improve by tomorrow, when the plane might have a "window of opportunity" to land at Rothera.

It would stop overnight before flying to the South Pole on Monday.

Douceur said it would take about five hours to fly from the South Pole to McMurdo Station, where she hoped to board a scheduled United States Air Force C-17 on Monday afternoon to return to Christchurch.

The wait was frustrating, she said. "It's just dragging on and dragging on."

The US Antarctic Programme refused to urgently evacuate Douceur after she became ill on August 27, despite recommendations to do so by the station's doctors.

She was told her condition was not urgent and she would have to wait until scheduled plane flights resumed with warmer weather.

Her symptoms included suffering vision loss, jumbled speech and difficulty reading.

A second medical opinion, which she received this week from specialists in the US, suggested she could have a brain tumour or had suffered something other than a stroke.

A South Pole doctor would accompany her on the flight to McMurdo, where a nurse or air force doctor would travel with her for the five-hour flight to Christchurch.

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- The Press

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