Antarctic search put off until October

Last updated 11:44 28/01/2013
Rescuers in Antarctica have located the wreckage of a plane piloted by Canadian extreme polar pilot Bob Heath.
LOST: Pilot Bob Heath and his two passengers are dead.

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A cockpit voice recorder has been recovered from the wreck of a Canadian plane in Antarctica, but it will be months before search teams can reach the bodies of the three men believed to have died in last week's crash.

The Canadians were aboard the Twin Otter aircraft when it crashed into the northern end of the Queen Alexandra Range, halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station, on Wednesday.

The wreckage was spotted on Saturday lodged in a cliff 3900 metres up the side of the range.

Antarctica New Zealand said today that field teams were able to land close to the crash site yesterday and recovered some equipment from the plane's tail, including the cockpit voice recorder, which should provide crucial insight in to the moments leading up to the crash.

However, it was too treacherous for the team to access more of the wreckage, which was largely embedded in snow and ice on a steep slope.

Poor weather had forced the search to be called off until the next Antarctic research season, beginning in October, Antarctica New Zealand said.

An initial assessment by Kenn Borek Air, of Calgary, Canada, the owner of the plane, deemed the crash was "not survivable".

The company said next of kin had been informed.

The search and rescue operation was launched on Wednesday after the plane's beacon activated within New Zealand's search and rescue region.

The missing include pilot Bob Heath, who has been flying in the Arctic and Antarctic with Kenn Borek Air since 1991.

Last week, former company general manager Steve Penikett said he had viewed a computer program monitoring the plane that showed it flying at just under 4000m, drop to 2700m, then climb back to its former height, travelling at 140 knots (260kmh) before suddenly recording "zero air speed".

He said all of this happened "within minutes".

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