Missing South Pole pilot named

STACEY KIRK AND NICOLE PRYOR
Last updated 17:40 24/01/2013
OTTER: A file picture of a Twin Otter at the glacier landing strip at Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica.
MICHAEL FIELD/Fairfax Media
OTTER: A file picture of a Twin Otter at the glacier landing strip at Terra Nova Bay, Antarctica.
South Pole pilot
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MISSING: Candian Bob Heath was flying the missing plane.

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The pilot of a plane which is missing in Antarctica has been confirmed as extreme polar pilot Canadian Bob Heath.

Heath is one of three men at the centre of a large-scale search started after the locator beacon in their plane was set off last night. The search has been suspended for today.

The plane, a Twin Otter, went missing last night on a flight from the South Pole to the Italian Antarctic base at Terra Nova Bay.

The three men aboard were Canadians and were understood to be working for Kenn Borek Air, a Calgary-based airline, Neil Gilbert from Antarctica New Zealand said.

Bad weather was hampering the search with a C-130 Hercules this afternoon only able to circle the area they are believed to be at a height of 22,000 ft, Maritime New Zealand spokesman Steve Rendle said.

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

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

Heath was an experience pilot and was reportedly quoted in Australian media last year, talking 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."

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

The beacon has been transmitting continually since it was set off last night.

Maritime NZ said the signal was coming from the northern end of the Queen Alexandra Range, which fell within New Zealand's Search and Rescue Region.

The range is about halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station - about 680km in each direction.

Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator John Ashby said the plane had spent around five hours circling above the site of the beacon, but had now returned to McMurdo Base.

"The forecast for the next 12 hours is for similar conditions, but if there is a break in the weather the joint New Zealand and US field rescue team is ready to go from McMurdo Base at short notice," Ashby said.

The search and rescue crew had been stood down overnight, and were not expected to return to the scene until tomorrow (NZ time).

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RCCNZ COORDINATES

The RCCNZ began handling the search after the missing Twin Otter's emergency locator transmitter was activated at about 10pm last night.

The beacon was transmitting from the Northern end of the Queen Alexandra Range, within New Zealand's Search and Rescue Region.

While the RCCNZ was organising the search, US authorities were taking the lead locally, Gilbert said.

"The intent at this stage is to try to pre-position a campsite as close to where the emergency locator beacon has gone off."

Gilbert said Antarctica New Zealand was supplying a helicopter to go down to the campsite to help with the search.

It was hoped the search could be coordinated from that campsite, as while aircraft could deploy from Scott Base, they could not travel any further than 50km from the site because of weather.

Bad weather had already delayed a search flight scheduled to leave at 8am.

"Weather is heavy cloud cover, and I'm told the wind is picking up. It's around 20 knots, but it is very hard to get an accurate picture," a spokesman from RCCNZ said.

"The weather is actually stopping the flying at the moment, so the idea is to send up a DC3 to the area, and have that circle above the weather."

When the weather cleared, they could make contact with another Twin Otter plane and send it out to search for the missing plane, the spokesman said.

'ROUTINE FLIGHT'

Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Mike Roberts said US authorities at McMurdo had been asked for assistance, and an Air National Guard C130 Hercules aircraft flew to the position but was unable to sight the downed plane.

Maritime New Zealand spokesman, Steve Rendle, told Radio New Zealand it was a good sign the plane's emergency locator transmitter was activated.

"We are in the early stages of the operation but one thing I have been advised of is the emergency beacon... in a heavy landing can prevent the beacon working so that's a positive sign at this stage."

According to Kenn Borek Air's website, the airline started in 1970 and ran one of the largest Twin Otter fleets in the world.

- The Press

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