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2 Canadian planes waiting to complete dangerous mission in ‘total darkness’ of Antarctic winter

Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air may rescue second patient from South Pole
WATCH ABOVE: The U.S. National Science Foundation says two Twin Otter planes from Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air will wait at a British station in the Antarctic until weather permits them to fly another 2,400 kilometres to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to evacuate a seasonal employee.

Two planes from Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air are waiting in Chile for the weather to improve before they can continue on a dangerous mission to rescue a worker in medical distress from a remote research station in Antarctica.

The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) said in a Facebook update that the aircraft are on the ground in Punta Arenas, Chile, waiting to proceed to the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

The two Twin Otter aircrafts left Calgary on June 14 and were chosen because they are designed to withstand severe cold and are equipped with skis, allowing them to land in snow, the U.S. National Science Foundation said in a statement.

“It currently is mid-winter in Antarctica,” the NSF said in a statement. “Normally, flights in and out of Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station are not planned between February and October due to the extreme cold and darkness.”

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During the winter months, the average monthly temperature hovers around -60 C and can drop to -80 C.

“As there is no tarmac runway at the South Pole, the aircraft must land in total darkness on compacted snow,” the foundation said.

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The NSF said one plane will fly to British Antarctic Survey Station at Rothera for search and rescue purposes, while the other will travel 2,400 kilometres further to the Amundsen-Scott Research station at the South Pole.

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The foundation says an employee with Lockheed Martin at the Amundsen-Scott station requires evacuation to “a hospital that can provide a level of medical care that is unavailable at the station.”

Details of the patients’ medical conditions will not be released due to privacy concerns, the NSF said.

Due to the difficulties of flying to the isolated research station only two winter rescue missions have occurred in the 60 years the research station has been in operation — once in 2001 and in 2003 – both completed by Kenn Borek Air.

The company made improvements to its navigation charts for the Antarctic after three Canadians were killed when a Kenn Borek plane crashed into an Antarctic mountainside in January 2013.

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The bodies of Bob Heath, 55, of Inuvik, N.W.T., Perry Andersen, 36, of Collingwood, Ont., and Mike Denton, 25, of Calgary remain on Mount Elizabeth, in the wreckage of the plane in which they died.

*With files from the Canadian Press