Stricken South Pole Worker Safely Evacuated

ARLINGTON, Virginia, September 23, 2003 (ENS) - An ill worker at the South Pole has been evacuated from Antarctica and is en route to United States for medical treatment. The patient was working as a logistical contractor at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in Antarctica.

The National Science Foundation (NSF) manages the U.S. Antarctic Program, which coordinates all U.S. scientific research and logistics support in Antarctica.

The patient, an employee of Raytheon Polar Services Company, of Centennial, Colorado, NSF's Antarctic logistics contractor, has requested anonymity, and foundation is honoring that request. The specifics of his condition are being kept confidential. The illness is not contagious and no one else at the station was at risk.

The patient is in stable condition and will travel to a U.S. hospital for treatment. The National Science Foundation says it is withholding the hospital's location to protect the patient’s identity.


The Twin Otter evacuation aircraft parked on the South Pole skiway while the flight crew rested. (Photo by Lynn Arnold courtesy NSF)
The rescue aircraft, a two-engine DeHavilland Twin Otter left the Pole at 5 am Eastern Time Sunday carrying a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, a physician's assistant and the patient.and arrived at the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Station on the Antarctic Peninsula nearly nine hours later.

The Twin Otter, operated by Kenn Borek Air Ltd. of Alberta, Canada, under contract to Raytheon in support of the U.S. Antarctic Program, returned to Rothera. The evacuation plane and another Kenn Borek Twin Otter then flew on to Punta Arenas, Chile, arriving on Sunday night.

The changeable weather, as the Antarctica winter gives way to spring, made the evacuation particularly difficult. The planes waited several days at Rothera for favorable weather.

The pilots relied on weather forecasts developed by SPAWAR Systems Center, in Charleston, South Carolina, in cooperation with the British Antarctic Survey and British weather forecasters in the Falkland Islands.

Weather models developed jointly at Ohio State University and the National Center for Atmospheric Research were critical in planning. Concern that the individual's condition could possibly worsen prompted the evacuation decision.

Karl Erb, who heads the U.S. Antarctic Program, said, "I am extremely gratified that this flight has been carried out safely and that the patient will soon be receiving a level of sophisticated and expert medical care that is simply unavailable in Antarctica."

"I congratulate and thank everyone who assisted in making this a successful operation, especially the aircrews and our team at Pole," Erb said, expressing "gratitude" to the British Antarctic Survey for providing the crucial assistance that made the evacuation flight successful and safe.


Dr. Will Silva (left), South Pole station physician, and Loreen Lock, of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who is spending the winter at the Pole, secure medical equipment to a vehicle. (Photo by Karina Leppik courtesy NSF)
Officials of NSF's Office of Polar Programs have been consulting via a telemedicine link with the South Pole station's physician as well as medical specialists in the United States at the University Texas Medical Branch in Houston, Johns Hopkins University, Brigham and Women's Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, and radiologists and internists in the Denver area.

As spring comes to the Southern Hemisphere, normal flight operations will soon begin to support the several thousand researchers and other personnel who travel to Antarctica under the auspices of the U.S. Antarctic Program. Usually, the first flights into coastal McMurdo take place at the end of September.

Flights to the South Pole do not begin until late October or early November, when temperatures have increased. The average temperature at the SouthPole at this time of year is –60 degrees Celsius (–76 degrees Fahrenheit).

This year, 58 scientists and staff are spending the austral winter at the South Pole station. Some are overseeing the operation of sophisticated telescopes that take advantage of the pristine Polar atmosphere as an astronomy observatory, some are working on building a new, modern station at the Pole and others work in a variety of support roles that keep the station functioning.

The U.S. Antarctic Program strives to understand the Antarctic and its associated ecosystems. Scientists work to understand the region's effects on global processes such as climate, and analyze the Antarctic's responses to these phenomena.