Icy search for missing men continues

Last updated 09:00 26/01/2013
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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Efforts to locate three Canadians who went missing during a flight from the South Pole to Terra Nova Bay in Antarctica will continue today, as weather conditions improve.

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) began coordinating the search, working with United States and Canadian authorities, after the missing Twin Otter aircraft's emergency locator transmitter was activated at about 10pm on Wednesday.

A Twin Otter aircraft is scheduled to fly from the Darwin glacier area this morning to Beardmore glacier base, which is about 50km away from where the emergency beacon was transmitting, to set up camp. As soon as the weather clears, two helicopters based at McMurdo station will be flown to the camp to undertake an aerial search for the missing plane.

Despite several planes searching for the aircraft since the beacon was activated on Wednesday night at 10pm no visual sightings have been possible due to poor visibility and snow. 

The location is at a height of 3,900m (13,000 feet) at the northern end of the Queen Alexandra Range, within New Zealand's Search and Rescue Region - halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station (approximately 680km or 370 nautical miles in each direction).

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) said the crew of the missing aircraft have survival equipment and are well trained for the harsh environment.

Antarctica New Zealand operations and infrastructure manager Graeme Ayres said earlier it was difficult to describe the vastness.

"The terrain, if I was to liken it to something, it's sort of like the Grand Canyon. It's very similar to that, only on a reverse scale. It's huge. And glaciated as well.

"The winds have been blowing up to about 90 knots; the visibility is about 200 metres on the ground. The temperatures with that will be about minus 30 degrees Celsius [plus] wind chill. They're hard conditions to work in and hard conditions to mount a rescue in."

Former general manager Steve Penikett said  a computer program monitoring the plane tracked a dip, climb and a sudden stop, Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail reported.

Penikett watched on his computer as the plane was detected flying at just under 4000m, dropped to 2700m, then climbed back to its former height, travelling at 140 knots (260kmh), before suddenly recording "zero air speed".

"It's my candid opinion that this aircraft flew into the rocks," he said.

 

An update on the search and rescue effort will be provided on the Maritime New Zealand website as soon as there are any further developments. 

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- Fairfax Media

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