Antarctica rescue flight lands in NZ

DAVID BENIUK
Last updated 20:06 09/08/2012
BACK FROM THE ICE: An Australian medical team arrives in Christchurch with an ill American patient from Antarctica.
DAVID HALLETT/Fairfax NZ

BACK FROM THE ICE: An Australian medical team arrives in Christchurch with an ill American patient from Antarctica.

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A medical rescue flight carrying an American from Antarctica has landed in Christchurch

An Australian medical team used favourable weather conditions in Antarctica to airlift the patient from the United States McMurdo Station research centre.

Temperatures hit -25C at McMurdo but conditions otherwise were described as "perfect" for the jet to land at the base after a five-hour flight from Christchurch.

The five-member Australian team arrived on the ice this afternoon (NZT) in an Australian Antarctic Division's (AAD) Airbus A319 and left about an hour later, taking advantage of a brief twilight as Antarctica emerges from its six-month-long dark winter.

US staff prepared the ice runway, known as Pegasus. It is one of a handful in Antarctica that can land wheeled aircraft.

The AAD received a call for help from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) yesterday.

"The patient, whose identity NSF is not releasing, is currently stable but may require immediate corrective surgery best delivered at a more capable facility than is available at McMurdo," a statement from NSF said.

"The facility at McMurdo is equivalent to an urgent-care centre in the US and is not equipped for the type of procedure being contemplated."

The NSF would not disclose the nature of the illness or injury.

The patient was being treated on board the aeroplane and was expected to receive more medical help in Christchurch.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force provided search and rescue coverage for the flight.

McMurdo is the main US Antarctic base and is on the southern tip of Ross Island 3800km south of Christchurch and 1360km north of the South Pole.

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