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Stranded polar pilot lands safely

Pilot Jon Johanson, shown in a picture taken before his polar trip, was stuck in Antarctica when his plane ran out of fuel.AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

An Australian who became the first pilot to fly solo over the South Pole in a homemade plane flew back to New Zealand after being stranded on the ice for six days without fuel.

Jon Johanson from Adelaide, Australia refueled his single-engined plane with supplies donated by a British aviator who had abandoned a separate around-the-world attempt to fly over both the North and South Poles.

Johanson took off from the U.S. McMurdo base ice runway on the South Pole just before 2:00 a.m. Monday and touched down at Invercargill on the southern tip of New Zealand at about 2:55 p.m. Monday.

“He’s safely landed and he’s just going through the border control checks,” Invercargill Airport operations manager Eric Forsyth said.

His safe return ended a frosty episode in relations between Australia and its two closest allies, the United States and New Zealand, who had refused to refuel Johanson’s plane.

The drama began Tuesday after he set a record by flying over the pole. Powerful head winds forced Johanson to land at U.S.-New Zealand McMurdo-Scott base in Antarctica after he realized he didn’t have enough fuel to continue on to Argentina as planned after his polar flight.
A diplomatic spat broke out between Australia, the United States and New Zealand when their officials in Antarctica refused appeals by Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer to fuel Johanson’s plane.

Some Antarctic research stations have a policy of not selling fuel to adventurers, largely because they don’t want to encourage poorly planned expeditions. Authorities at the base also said they didn’t have the right type of fuel for Johanson’s plane.

Relief came Friday when Polly Vacher, a British pilot, offered to give Johanson her spare fuel stored at the base.