U.S. Mounts Daring Rescue Mission At The South Pole

Jun 21, 2016
Originally published on June 21, 2016 6:44 pm

Updated 5:45 p.m. ET: Plane lands at the pole

The U.S. government has launched a rescue mission to the South Pole after a worker at its Amundsen-Scott research station fell ill. The evacuation comes at the height of winter on the Antarctic continent — a time when there are usually no flights in or out of the pole.

A Twin Otter aircraft has landed at the pole after a 1,500-mile journey from the British Antarctic Survey's Rothera Station. The National Science Foundation says the crew will rest for some hours and then assess weather conditions before attempting the return journey. A second plane was stationed at Rothera as a backup.

The mission is considered risky. The South Pole is currently in a state of perpetual darkness, and as NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce reports:

"Normally no flights go in or out from February to October because of the extreme weather, such as temperatures around -70 degrees Fahrenheit."

According to the National Weather Service, the current temperature at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station is -70 degrees, with a wind chill of -101 degrees.

Forty-eight workers live at the pole over the winter, maintaining scientific instruments and making observations. Normally, they depend on supplies stockpiled during the summer months.

But the National Science Foundation, which runs the station, says the "medical situation" necessitates a flight because a worker there requires care at a hospital. It is not providing further details because of privacy concerns.

The NSF says it conducted previous winter evacuation flights in 2001 and 2003.

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