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South Pole Medevac, June 2016

South Pole Medevac, June 2016

2023-10-27 08:11:10

2003 Twin Otter takeoff from Pole
The 20 September 2003 Pole departure of Barry McCue’s medevac
(picture by Jason Medley from the USAP picture library) (link to original).

The June 2016 medevac was first introduced in this NSF press release issued on 15 June South Pole time (UTC+12, 14 June US/Canada Mountain Time) after the 2 Kenn Borek Air (KBA) Twin Otters had departed Calgary. The press launch included the important thing assertion, “After complete session with outdoors medical professionals, company officers determined {that a} medical scenario at Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station warrants returning a member of the station’s winter crew to a hospital that may present a degree of medical care that’s unavailable on the station,” and it was accompanied by the above file picture from the 2003 medevac…and naturally that picture appeared in lots of different media stories that day.

Apparently, Wallace (“Wally”) Dobchuck, who could be the lead pilot on the evolution, first discovered about the opportunity of the medevac a couple of week earlier than it started…when he was at a assessment assembly in Boise with NSF the place plans for Kenn Borek’s upcoming season had been to be mentioned. Wally returned to Calgary the place plans had been being made and crews had been being chosen; on Saturday 11 June they had been knowledgeable that the mission was on.

On the 14th, the 2 plane left Kenn Borek headquarters in Calgary, first flying to Centennial airport, south of Denver close to the ASC workplaces. Right here they picked up some important mission tools. They then continued on to McAllen, which is alongside the Rio Grande in far southern Texas. From this level, aid crews flew the Twin Otters south to Punta Arenas, whereas the first crews continued south on business plane, in order to reach properly rested.

flight plan mapThe Twin Otters stopped in Liberia, Costa Rica in addition to greater than as soon as in Chile, earlier than reaching Punta Arenas (at proper, a route map from this blog post about the medevac by 2012 IceCube winterover Carlos Pobes). This a part of the timeline just isn’t properly documented… presumably the flight crews reached PA on business flights earlier than the Twin Otters did, and had some further down time. In any case, by the point the first flight crews took over the Twin Otters, it was late night in Punta Arenas, I am interested by 2200 native time (UTC-4) on 17 June, or 1400 South Pole time (NZST, UTC+12) on 18 June. (All occasions are SP occasions until in any other case indicated). Punta Arenas and Rothera time is UTC-3). The first air crews had arrived earlier and had about 36 hours relaxation earlier than the following leg. In the meantime, the 2 Kenn Borek medics had additionally arrived in PA.

file photo of RotheraHowever…the climate closed in with a blizzard at Rothera, so the crews waited round for two days earlier than lastly heading south within the early morning (PA) hours of 20 June. They arrived about 6 hours later whereas it was nonetheless gentle sufficient to reconfigure each plane… together with switching out their wheeled touchdown gear for skis (NSF press release announcing the arrival at Rothera–which additionally included the BAS file picture (left) of Rothera). After resting in a single day, the following morning it appeared like there could be a 48-hour climate window for a deliberate ~30 hour return journey to Pole. The first flight crew, consisting of pilot Wally Dobchuck, copilot Sbastien Trudel, plane upkeep engineer Michael McCrae, together with medic Thai Verzone, left Rothera at about 0800 native time (UTC-3) on Tuesday 21 June (0100 SP time on Wednesday 22 June. The plane carried 7,000 lbs/1,000 gallons of gas, together with 2 250-gallon tanks within the fuselage, in addition to 2 55-gallon drums. Issues had been a bit dicey early within the flight, because the climate had began to deteriorate, and it took a few hours for the plane to burn off sufficient gas to have the ability to ascend above the icing zone. If this had not occurred, Michael may have opened a valve to dump 1,500 lbs/~225 gallons of gas…however this most likely would have required a return to Rothera.

One of many particulars of the flights to/from Pole that was revealed later by the flight crew, is that they obtained caught up in singing the track “Within the jungle…the lion sleeps tonight” regardless of not figuring out all the phrases. That tune has been recorded many occasions because it was written by a South African of Zulu origin within the 1920’s (Wikipedia article)…it was extra not too long ago made well-known by the Lion King film.

In the meantime, preparations at Pole had been underway for awhile, plenty of work for everybody on station:

[Robert Schwarz was the only person on station authorized by NSF to share photos
with media during the event; accordingly all of the Pole photos on this page are his.]

preparing the skiway
Together with lengthy hours getting ready 8000′ of skiway…

setting up the flight line
…and establishing the flight line.


A few of the stuff needed to be dug out from the “finish of the world” storage berm, together with a warming hut, generator and electrical constructing, pump home, and a gas manifold constructing. All of which needed to be connected and examined.

setting up the fuel system
Hooking up the gas hoses.

testing one of the runway lights
One of many runway lights.


Eleven of these burn barrels had been ready and set out by Max Peters. They had been 55-gallon drums minimize off to 14″ excessive and stuffed with a mix of JP-8 and mogas in addition to some items of wooden. Checks proved that with 15 gallons of the gas combination, they’d burn for 7 hours. It took about 30 seconds with a MAP-PRO torch to heat the gas sufficient in order that it could ignite. And so they had been seen from the plane 15 miles away. Again in my 1977 winter there have been a number of dozen Coleman lanterns on cabinets within the storage arch, offered to be used of an emergency winter medevac…it was a great factor we did not want to make use of them for that function, as they did not burn for very lengthy in winter temperatures. Moreover, there have been numerous crimson and white LED strobes, together with 5 shiny headlamps that Robert had ordered from Amazon to be used on crusing journeys. He set these up within insulated bins heated with bottles of boiling water, and used inflated trash baggage for diffusers.

headlamp in a heated insulated box
One of many headlamps in an insulated field.

testing the white strobe
Testing it outdoors of DA. Here is Robert’s video of the test.


snowmobiles in the LO

Different preparations had been underway contained in the station: to organize for a possible emergency rescue, hearth, or different scenario, two snowmobiles had been introduced within the heated LO, together with two Nansen sleds that had been loaded with emergency provides, together with sleeping baggage, a number of hearth extinguishers, and medical provides. Evidently, the snowmobiles wouldn’t have been usable if that they had been parked outdoors. Thankfully, this tools was not referred to as upon in the course of the medevac evolution. And I have to say I am impressed by the handlebars on these Nansen sleds…again within the day (1977) the traditional technique of propulsion for these sleds was…us.
view from the NOAA webcam shortly before the landing
A view of the lit-up skiway from the NOAA webcam about 2 hours earlier than the medevac flight arrival (the time stamp is UTC,
12 hours sooner than Pole time, which was 08:04:55 on 22 June). Observe the wonderful climate and visibility–the Moon was up,
simply previous full, and there was not a lot wind.

Robert Schwarz and Matt Krahn spent many hours on a snowmobile setting out the assorted strobe lights about an hour earlier than the touchdown, selecting them up afterward, after which setting them out once more earlier than takeoff in case the plane needed to return and land.

on final
At about 0920, the incoming plane was sighted. Right here it’s on closing method.

almost done taxiing
A couple of minutes later, about 0930. Taxiing…slowing nearly to a cease, being guided into place by one of many fuels techs.


bamboo mats for under the skis
Bamboo mats for the skis, to maintain them from freezing to the ice.

taxiing so the skis are on the mats
The ultimate little bit of taxiing to get the skis on prime of the bamboo mats.


[The need for the bamboo mats was learned during the April 2001 medevac. Due to the temperature (-95F/-70C), “extreme measures” were required to break the landing gear free (screen grab from Steffen Richter’s video).]

The temperature when the plane landed was -75.6F/-59.8C.

unloading the aircraft
Unloading the plane…baggage, medical provides, and FRESHIES!

closing the aircraft up for the night
Ending unloading…overlaying up and insulating the plane.


Securing the plane took about half an hour. This included closing issues up and establishing some heaters to maintain the electronics and engines considerably heat. After that, the flight crew headed into the station for a welcomed dinner of bison steak (extras from the midwinter dinner), properly ready by head chef Darby Butts and the remainder of the galley crew. The flight crew then headed off to mattress…utilizing oxygen concentrators as Twin Otter crews usually do throughout their RON at Pole. In the meantime, the Polies had been having fun with the freshies from Rothera–boxes of apples, oranges, and tangerines, in addition to sweets–tarts and biscuits (properly, English biscuits aka cookies or brownies maybe) and 900g of home made Antarctic sea salt for Darby to do issues with.

Eight hours after the touchdown, preparations started for the northbound flight.

warming the engines
Making use of extra critical warmth to the plane engines.

loading cargo and baggage
Loading up baggage and cargo.


The principle flight crew met the medevac sufferers in one of many foremost hallways, shortly earlier than the crew headed out to get the plane these days. Pilot Wally Dobchuck defined to them what could be happening–the sufferers could be on stretchers with restricted headroom–meanwhile, the two 55-gallon drums of additional gas had been faraway from the plane to compensate for the load of the sufferers, medical provides, and the one bag that the passengers may take with them.

getting the patients on board
Getting the sufferers on board.

final goodbyes
The sufferers are aboard…time for closing goodbyes.


manager Craig Knott and physician Hamish Wright
Two of the 48 Polie heroes…winter web site supervisor Craig Knott (left) and doctor Hamish Wright.

engines started
Finally, every little thing was loaded, doorways closed, heaters and lights eliminated, preflight test accomplished, and engines began.


starting to taxi
After which…the plane began shifting.

takeoff from Pole
The closely overloaded plane would want each little bit of the cleared skiway to take off…as seen right here, with the Moon within the background.


The Twin Otter departed Pole at about 1945 22 June and headed to Rothera, as described in this Washington Post article which was up to date on 22 June EDT. The flight was uneventful (“all downhill” because it had been), maybe my solely concern whereas studying the accounts was that Darby Butts and the remainder of the Pole galley crew had offered the flight group with some very spicy Thai soup. It was drastically appreciated by your entire flight crew. Thankfully there was no want for an emergency Antarctic touchdown to cope with any unanticipated unwanted effects of the soup (!) though this had been one in all my worries on the time.


flight from Pole approaching Rothera

Again at Rothera, 4 to 5 hours previous to the arrival of the flight from Pole, the second flight crew was getting ready their plane for the journey to PA…together with switching it again from skis to wheels…as that they had put in skis lest they may have to move south for a SAR mission. The flight from Pole landed at Rothera at about 0515 23 June SP time/1315 22 June Rothera time (left), (NSF press release), after which the 2 sufferers had been transported to the bottom dispensary whereas the 2 aircrews exchanged data. (The picture is from BAS by Joe Bolton–source and BAS press release).

medic Thai Verzone at Rothera

See Also

At proper is medic Thai Verzone in entrance of the automobile (a Tucker Terra Mannequin 1600 Sno-Cat) used to move the sufferers between the airstrip and the dispensary whereas the aircrews had been getting ready for the flight to PA. The sufferers had been ambulatory. (Photograph supply, this Alaska Dispatch News article/ interview.) Kenn Borek introduced two medics on this enterprise, however Thai was the one who went to Pole, and he continued with the opposite flight crew to PA with the sufferers. He is from Anchorage and has been across the program for awhile…he is labored for USAP as a mountaineer and medic supporting science subject events. (Apparently, Thai completed second within the Ob Hill Uphill race on 31 December 2000, with a time of 4:43. That stat is from the 7 January 2001 Antarctic Solar; that race began from the highway to the previous nuclear/water plant web site.)

two KBA Twin Otters on the Rothera runwayAt left, the 2 plane on the Rothera runway…the one with wheels would shortly take the sufferers to Punta Arenas. A few month after the medevac, I met up with buddy Michael Powell, who had been the BAS base commander for Rothera in 2001 when Ron Shemenski had been medevaced. He stated that it was pretty simple so as to add (or take away) snow from the runway as wanted to facilitate landings with skis or wheels…and that there additionally was a second snow runway behind the bottom that could possibly be used for ski plane operations. (This BAS picture appeared in numerous information articles from AP, together with this archived story with photos).

After about 90 minutes, issues had been prepared for the flight north and the climate was beginning to deteriorate, so pilot James Haffey despatched phrase again to the dispensary to get the sufferers again to the airstrip so they may depart. They headed north at about 0645 SP time…

ambulances at Punta Arenas airport

…and reached Punta Arenas about 7 hours later–1345 SP time on 23 June, or 2245 22 June PA time (the NSF press release). And the ambulances had been ready. This picture is a display seize from the Smithsonian video talked about under.

Punta Arenas hospital sign
Here is the ultimate vacation spot for the sufferers…the Punta Arenas hospital the place they had been taken. This 2005 picture is from Pete Allen, who was medevaced here from Palmer Station in October 2005 with appendicitis. (I wintered with Pete at Pole in 2008.) In the meantime…Wally Dobchuck and his flight crew encountered a blizzard at Rothera and needed to wait greater than 2 days earlier than with the ability to fly north with backup medic John Loomis. The 2 plane and crews made it again to Calgary on 30 June. As for the sufferers, privateness has been maintained, though I do know that one in all them has recovered utterly.

After everybody had returned house, extra tales and movies began to emerge. The most effective sources is CTV Information…in this 5 July 2016 story they current 9 movies that includes interviews of the flight crews.

the flight crew that went to Pole
Here is the Pole flight crew as they had been being interviewed within the KBA hangar after their return to Calgary. From left: plane upkeep engineer Michael McCrae, copilot Sbastien Trudel, and chief pilot Wallace (Wally) Dobchuck. That is one other display seize from that Smithsonian video talked about under.

Dr. Hamish Wright, the 2016 wo doctor from New Zealand, was praised by outgoing President Barack Obama for his contribution to the medical evacuation, per this 21 January New Zealand report from Newshub.

The Kenn Borek aircrews obtained two further prestigious nationwide awards in March of 2017. The primary was the Aviation Week and Area Know-how Laureate for Heroism, introduced on 2 March (Aviation Week article and related video from NSF. The second of those was the 2017 Trophy of Present Achievement, introduced by the Smithsonian’s Nationwide Air and Area Museum–the eight crew members had been introduced with the award on 29 March at a black tie dinner in Washington DC…per this NSF press release, this CBC News account with video, and this extended video from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. The honorees included the Pole flight crew and medic pictured above, backup medic John Loomis, and the flight crew that flew the sufferers from Rothera to PA–pilot Jim Heffey, copilot Lindsay Owen, and plane upkeep engineer Gerald Cirtwill.

Some winterover Polie weblog posts and web sites concerning the medevac–with extra photographs and video:

Alex Teixeira, upkeep/undertaking foreman…

Lindsey Clark, supplies individual…

Hannah McAllister, supplies individual….4 posts: Thoughts on Medevac (23 June); Bartering (24 June); Medevac Process (24 June); and Mission Complete (29 June)

…and naturally Robert Schwarz. That is his 2016 winter web page with picture hyperlinks, scroll down for more information!

Different references I ought to point out (and refer you to for more information):

This National Geographic article which primarily describes the flight from Rothera to Pole.

An account by aurora research tech Tim Ager within the Antarctic Solar “Across the Continent” archive (scroll nearly midway down the web page to the 11 July 2016 medevac account).

A 15 June article from phys.org, printed simply after NSF introduced the medevac.

My protection of earlier medical points/medevacs:

About Rene Nicole Douceur, August-October 2011.

The September 2003 medevac of Barry McCue.

The April 2001 medevac of Ron Shemenski.

Jerri Nielsen’s departure from Pole in October 1999 in addition to the June 1999 airdrop in support of her condition.


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