New Zealand & Antarctica

Today's news of an aircraft being sent to the South Pole to rescue a seriously ill staff member at the American run Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, is a reminder of the special connection New Zealand has with Antarctica and the incredible challenges it presents to humans and the real life heroes who often risk all to rescue those in trouble.

New Zealand has a special connection with Antarctica, partly because of the US "Deep Freeze" program based at Christchurch. From Christchurch, "Deep Freeze" aircraft resupply the US Antarctic scientific bases, including the largest at McMurdo Sound where our photo was taken. If you're concerned that the aircraft in the photo might sink into the snow, don't worry, the ice under them is 110 ft thick!

It's not widely known that Antarctica is the coldest and windiest continent on our planet, not the northern Arctic as many people believe. The coldest temperature on earth was recorded at an Antarctica base in 1983, when the outside air hit minus 129 degrees F

It's so cold that if plane engines are turned off during winter, the fuel can freeze into a jelly. That's just one of the reasons that the American "Deep Freeze" program suspends all regular flights between Christchurch and McMurdo Sound over the winter months of June to September. Researchers and other staff down are left to winter over in almost perpetual darkness.

This incredibly hostile environment is what the pilots on this rescue mission will have to content with. There's no daylight, so the only light is from the moon, winds can be ferocious and the distances they need to travel are massive. 

When we also consider that the aircraft they are using on today's rescue mission is a small twin-engine Twin Otter aircraft and their only back-up if something untoward happens is another Twin Otter aircraft, the bravery and skills involved demands our admiration.

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This is a photo of a Twin Otter aircraft at the South Pole in 2001, the first ever rescue from the South Pole during the polar winter, to rescue Canadian Dr. Ron Shemenski who had developed pancreatitis and needed emergency surgery. The company leading today's mission is the same Canadian company, Kenn Borek Air.

New Zealand Vacations itineraries include opportunities to visit the International Antarctic Centre at Christchurch Airport where interactive displays provide insights into life on Antarctica. Our 17 Day 'Journey of Amazing Contrasts' itinerary is one such example.

But for today our thoughts are with our real life heroes and their daring rescue mission.

Footnote: Next day we learned that at the last moment, not one, but two Lockheed-Martin employees were successfully rescued. Click here for the Fox News follow-up story that ran on July 6 - Pilots recount daring mission to rescue sick American workers at South Pole

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Jun 22, 2016