Searchers unable to see Antarctic plane

MICHAEL DALY AND MICHAEL WRIGHT
Last updated 09:29 25/01/2013
Bob Heath
EXPERIENCED PILOT: The pilot of a plane which is missing in Antarctica has been confirmed as Canadian extreme polar pilot Bob Heath.

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Heavy cloud and strong winds have prevented searchers seeing a plane believed to have gone down in Antarctica with three men on board.

The Canadian men aboard a Twin Otter light plane went missing on Wednesday night. Their locator beacon was set off about halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station - about 680 kilometres in each direction. 

Maritime NZ said the locator signal was coming from the northern end of the Queen Alexandra Range, which fell within New Zealand's search and rescue region.

A Twin Otter set off from McMurdo about 4.30am to fly over the locator transmitter site, which was at about 4000 metres.

However, the Rescue Coordination Centre said heavy cloud and strong winds prevented those on board seeing the site.

Rescue mission coordinator Kevin Banaghan confirmed the locator beacon had stopped transmitting overnight but this was not unexpected given the battery life and cold conditions. However, the location was now well identified.

He said weather conditions remained "very challenging" and were forecast to continue for the next 12 hours.  However, over the next 24 hours winds were expected to drop from 170km/hr to 35km/hr with cloud forecast to lift.

"When conditions ease, the intention is to set up a forward base at a location approximately 50km from the beacon site, from which to launch operations to the site."

Weather conditions have not yet allowed helicopters to fly to the area, but two helicopters, including a Southern Lakes (New Zealand) helicopter on contract to Antarctica New Zealand at Scott Base, remain on standby should weather conditions change.

All three on-board were Canadians, understood to be working for Kenn Borek Air, a Calgary-based airline.

Canadian newspaper Canmore Leader reported the pilot has been identified by his wife as extreme polar pilot Bob Heath, from Inuvik, in Canada's northwestern territories.

His wife, Lucy, said she was "just waiting for news".

Heath was an experienced pilot and was quoted in the Australian media last year about his work.

"I have done nine or 10 trips to Antarctica as a pilot for Kenn Borek and worked for the Americans, Italians and tourist ops at Patriot Hills," he said.

"I also fly in the Arctic and do grizzly bear, polar bear and Beluga whale surveys."

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- The Press

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