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South Pole rescue mission makes 2nd leg

A plane carrying a sick worker from the U.S. South Pole research station arrived at a British base on the Antarctic coast Sunday on a rescue mission that had been delayed for days by bad weather.
/ Source: The Associated Press

An airplane carrying an ailing worker from the U.S. research station at the South Pole arrived at a British base on the Antarctica coast Sunday on a rescue mission that had been delayed for days by bad weather.

The twin turboprop Twin Otter aircraft took off from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station at about 5 a.m. ET and reached the British Rothera Air Station, some 1,350 miles away, about 1:51 p.m., said Valerie Carroll of Raytheon Polar Services.

The Denver-based company manages the polar station for the National Science Foundation.

The ill employee was to be flown to Chile and then the United States. The employee, whose name is being withheld at his request, can walk but may need surgery. Raytheon has declined to confirm reports he is suffering from a bladder infection.

The patient’s destination in the United States will not be disclosed in order to protect his identify, said Peter West of the National Science Foundation.

Pilot Sean Loutitt, of Kenn Borek Air based in Calgary, Alberta, flew the 16-hour round trip to the polar station and back to Rothera. The patient was to board a second Twin Otter for the flight to Punta Arenas, Chile. Each plane has  two pilots and an engineer.

The 900-mile, five-hour flight across open ocean to Punta Arenas, at the southern tip of Chile, is anything but a milk run.

“The Drake Passage between Chile and Antarctica has probably the worst weather in the world,” said Steve Penikeet, manager of Kenn Borek. “It’s a long ways, and kind of cold.”

The rescue flight had been delayed for days because of wind and snow during the southern hemisphere’s spring season. “Definitely, the weather at the bottom of the world is very fickle in the spring,” said Carroll.

It is the third such rescue in four years, and is occurring in darkness. The sun doesn’t come up at the South Pole until Tuesday.