Australia’s Ice Jet making Antarctic medi-vac flight
Updated, medi-vac completed overnight
The Australian Antarctic Division’s small hot rod Airbus A319 jet is getting a mid winter workout deep into the ice continent today as it responds to a rescue call from the US base at McMurdo Sound at 78 degrees S.
The medical evacuation will occur when flight conditions allow, to retrieve an American polar expeditioneer and bring him or her back to Christchurch in New Zealand, which is the usual gateway city for US Antarctic lifts to McMurdo and onwards to its Amundsen-Scott base at the South Pole.
The A319 was positioned in Christchurch yesterday from Hobart, where its role during the southern polar summer is to service the Wilkins Blue Runway, some distance from Australia’s Casey station, which is a hub for various bases and expeditions in that quadrant of the continent, often in conjunction with feeder support flights using ski-equipped Twin Otters (replacing the CASA 212s) as well as a turbo-prop version of the DC-3.
However the A319 is also extensively used for scientific charters by Antarctic treaty nations who stage through McMurdo as well as Wilkins, and since it began services in the 2007-2008 summer season it has been used for Christchurch-McMurdo and Hobart-McMurdo flights.
The sun has almost returned to McMurdo now, when it reaches a point less than four degrees below the horizon at noon local time, with civil and nautical twilight conditions at play for more than half each 24 hour period at this time of the year.
McMurdo allows wheeled aircraft landings all year subject to conditions on a hard ice runway or frozen sea ice, and is generally less cold than many airports in Siberia, northern Canada and parts of Alaska.
However it isn’t exactly warm either, and is currently reporting -23 C.
Updated. The medical evacuation of the US scientist to Christchurch has been completed.
Media reports as to the flight being dangerous are incorrect. It was every bit as safe as a flight in winter to Montreal or Minsk, both of which are far colder in terms of operational conditions than McMurdo.
The AAD flights are models of safe and professional planning, and every element of danger in the mission was painstakingly addressed including the provision of search and rescue backup for the Christchurch-McMurdo sector, which is identical to the safety standards that are applied to regular commercial flights through similar latitudes and conditions by Qantas, LAN Chile and Aerolineas Argentinas jets carrying thousands of people each way between Australia, New Zealand and South America every week.