Ice flight hailed as historic

Last updated 00:00 13/09/2008

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The first landing of a plane in Antarctica by a pilot using night-vision goggles is being hailed as an historic event which could revolutionise studies of the continent.

Just before midnight on Thursday a US Air Force C17 Globemaster III from Christchurch touched down in the pitch black at America's McMurdo Station.

That the plane was able to land safely in the dark has opened up the possibility of making regular trips during the continent's near half-year of gloom.

Previously air traffic stopped from February to late August, meaning those who went on the last flight had to stay while no-one else could go out.

Antarctica New Zealand chief executive Lou Sanson said more frequent flights made a greater a level of research possible throughout the year, as well as having implications for winter rescue missions.

"This was an historic event, it will certainly bring a measure of reassurance to those at McMurdo and (New Zealand's) Scott Base over the winter," he said.

Professor of Antarctic studies Bryan Storey said the middle of winter and early spring could now be studied by scientists flown in especially at those times.

The behaviour of sea ice and atmospheric phenomena could all fall into this category.

"You can take people out and bring new people in which allows for a better use of time and is definitely beneficial," said Storey, of the University of Canterbury.

Lieutenant Colonel Jim McGann, of the US Air Force, said poor visibility and stormy conditions during the landing proved how feasible regular flights were.

"It was just above the minimum conditions we need to fly. We know now that with the minimum we have set we can get in," he said.

The plane stayed less than 30 minutes before returning to Christchurch yesterday.

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- The Press

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