A sick Australian was rescued from the coldest place on earth in a five-day, “challenging” mission.
The unwell expeditioner was at Davis research station in east Antarctica when needing evacuation from the icy continent.
The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) completed the complex medical evacuation on Christmas Eve, which also involved the United States and Chinese Antarctic Programs.
Covering thousands of kilometres in the east Antarctic, a logistic network of ships, helicopters and planes were used to shift the sick expeditioner.
Details of illness could not be provided for medical confidentiality reasons, but the AAD confirmed it was not COVID-19.
AAD Director Kim Ellis said the five-day operation was challenging and complex but reflected the best of international co-operation.
“Antarctica really brings nations together to support each other in our operations,” Mr Ellis said.
“We’ve been doing these medevacs for a long time, but this particular operation was in the very best spirit of that multinational co-operation.”
By chance, a Chinese icebreaker was travelling to a nearby Chinese research station.
The ship’s helicopters were sent to transfer a team from Davis a site 40 kilometres inland to build a ski-way so US aircraft could land.
At the same time a US ski-equipped aircraft flew from the US to Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome near Casey Station and picked up an Australian doctor.
That plane then flew to the ski-way near Davis station to transfer the patient to Wilkins Aerodrome, where they were then flown by Australia’s Airbus A319 to Hobart.
“We’re extraordinarily grateful to the Chinese and US Antarctic Programs for the fact that they were able to change their operating models and come to our assistance,” said Mr Ellis.
“I’m particularly grateful to the Australian expeditioners who displayed courage and resilience and skill, deploying to remote airfields and ski-ways and working in tough conditions.”
“The synergy of operating capabilities, incredible expertise and a favourable weather window enabled us to bring the patient back from Antarctica to Australia within a week,” he said.