Antarctica rescue bid hinges on weather

Last updated 20:30 02/12/2013

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Rescuers in Antarctica hope a "weather window" will help in the recovery of  three people, including a New Zealander, who were injured when a helicopter crashed.

The helicopter crashed 150 nautical miles from Australia’s Davis station on Sunday night, with the pilot and two passengers aboard.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said it understood a New Zealander was one of them.

"The ministry is in contact with the Australian Antarctic Division to offer assistance and support to the individual, should this be required," MFAT said.

The Australian Antarctic Division said the trio, whose names have not been released, were returning from a mission to survey a penguin colony near the Amery ice shelf.

This evening Australian authorities said a reconnaissance aircraft had flown from Davis station around mid-afternoon (NZT) to look for viable landing areas for a ski-equipped Twin Otter aircraft. This could then be used as a suitable staging point to start the transfer of the injured people to Davis.

It was hoped a weather window in the next few hours would enable progress to be made.

The helicopter which made the emergency landing was travelling with a second helicopter. 

The pilot and passenger on the second helicopter immediately landed and were caring for the injured until additional medical support could reach them.

"Because of the nature of the incident and the environment their injuries are being treated as serious and awaiting further medical assessment.

"Reports from the incident site are that all are warm and sheltered and being closely monitored. Communication is being maintained with Davis station."

According to the director of the division, Tony Fleming, some of the injured were sheltering inside the second helicopter.  They were also making use of a survival tent, against temperatures of around minus six degrees.

The crashed helicopter was not recoverable. "It's in a few pieces," Fleming said.

A division spokeswoman told AAP that one of the people at the site was a field training officer "who's got extensive wilderness first aid skills down there so they are very well attended to.''

It was not known what the problem was with the helicopter, which was chartered by the division and operated by Helicopter Resources.

New Zealand's Landcare Research, which has two staff in Antarctica doing penguin research in a different area from the Australian study, said it had confirmed its staff were not involved.

 - Fairfax NZ, AAP and The Age

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