It Was a Daunting Antarctic Rescue—but a Successful One

An Australian icebreaker made it to within 89 miles of the ill man
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Sep 5, 2023 8:51 AM CDT
It Was a Daunting Antarctic Rescue—but a Successful One
In this undated photo provided by the Australian Antarctic Division, the icebreaker RSV Nuyina is photographed from the air. An Australian who fell ill at the remote Casey research station is returning home on the RSV Nuyina following a mission to rescue him, authorities said Tuesday, Sept. 5, 2023.   (Australian Antarctic Division via AP)

An Australian who fell ill at a remote Antarctic base is returning home on an icebreaker following a daunting mission to rescue him, authorities said Tuesday. The man was working at the Casey research station when he suffered from what authorities described as a developing medical condition that needed specialist assessment and care. The New York Times explains what made the evacuation so challenging: Winter only officially ended at the end of August, and "the Australian Antarctic program had never attempted a rescue mission so close to winter, when temperatures on the continent can fall to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit and blizzards can rage for days." And rescue via plane wasn't an option, as it would take weeks to try to prep Australia's runway on the continent, which isn't used in winter.

The settled-on solution: an icebreaker that would have to make its way through miles of ice. The icebreaker RSV Nuyina left Australia last week and traveled south more than 1,800 miles, ultimately reaching a location 89 miles from the base, the Australian Antarctic Division said in a statement. From there, two helicopters were deployed from the deck Sunday and arrived at the base after nearly an hour to rescue the man. "The first phase of the evacuation was performed safely and successfully and the ship is now on the return voyage to Hobart," said Robb Clifton, the division's acting general manager of operations and logistics. "Getting this expeditioner back to Tasmania for the specialist medical care required is our priority." The man is expected to arrive in Australia next week, reports the AP.

Until then, Clifton said, he would be cared for in the icebreaker's specially equipped medical facility by polar medicine doctors and staff from the Royal Hobart Hospital. Authorities said they weren't divulging the man's name or medical condition to protect his privacy. During the southern summer, more than 150 people work at the Casey research station. But over the winter, fewer than 20 remain to perform maintenance work. The BBC notes Australia requires that all researchers headed to Antarctica first submit to in-depth medical exams.

(More Antarctica stories.)

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