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Weather keeps Antarctic search for missing Canadian plane grounded

A De Havilland Twin Otter like the one missing since Wednesday lands at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 2003.
A De Havilland Twin Otter like the one missing since Wednesday lands at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in 2003.Lynn M. Arnold / National Science Foundation viAP

Bad weather continued to stop rescuers from searching for a Canadian airplane that went missing in Antarctica with three people on board, officials in New Zealand rescue team said Friday. 

Though winds, which had been blowing at over 100 mph, had calmed to just over 20 mph by 5 p.m. Friday New Zealand time (11 p.m. ET Thursday), conditions would not allow sighting of the downed twin-engine airplane.

"Visibility is down to (1,300 feet) and the snow is almost horizontal," Kevin Branaghan, an official with Rescue Coordination Center New Zealand, said in a statement. "The weather is expected to improve slightly after 12-24 hours."

The plane, owned by Kenn Borek Air of Calgary, Alberta, was on its way from the U.S.-run Amundsen-Scott South Pole station to Italy’s Mario Zucchelli station while supporting an Italian research project, according to the National Science Foundation, which manages U.S. programs on the icy continent.

It took off at about 3 a.m. ET Wednesday and flew for an hour before its emergency locator beacon was detected in New Zealand, which is responsible for monitoring that section of Antarctica.

The beacon was tracked to a spot about 11,000 feet above sea level at the northern end of the Queen Alexandra Mountain range, some 400 miles from the aircraft’s departure point near the South Pole, rescue-team spokesman Michael Flyger said Thursday.

Hours of flyovers by aircraft from the United States, Canada and New Zealand proved fruitless because of cloud cover and blowing snow, he said.

'Extremely cold'

Kenn Borek Air said in a Thursday statement that weather had kept another of its planes from landing at a makeshift airbase 35 miles from the site of the locator beacon.

The company has otherwise released little information, saying it is "maintaining a respectful silence" until the fate of the plane is known.

If the plane has crashed, any survivors would have faced extreme conditions in the mountains, Rescue Coordination Center spokesman Flyger said Thursday.

"It’s a cold place to start with," he said. "The elevation is around 11,000 feet so ... combined with the wind and snow ... it’s going to be extremely cold."

Flyger noted that the crew was carrying heavy-duty, cold-weather gear and a five-day supply of water.

"We are still operating with the expectation that we will find them alive," his colleague Branaghan said Friday.

The search-and-rescue team's website, however, referred to searching for a "crash site."


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