South Pole Setting for Daring Medical Rescue

     WASHINGTON (AP) — A daring South Pole medical rescue is underway. An airplane left a British base in Antarctica on Tuesday for the 1,500-mile trip to evacuate a sick worker from a remote U.S. science station.
     A Twin Otter plane began the trip Tuesday at about 8 a.m. EDT and is expected to arrive around 5 p.m., said Peter West, spokesman for the National Science Foundation, which runs the U.S. station. A second Twin Otter stayed behind at the Rothera station on the Antarctic peninsula in case something goes wrong with the first rescue attempt.
     Usually the flight crew — a pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer and medical worker — has to rest before a return flight from the pole, West said. The plane will return to the British base and then the ill worker will be taken out of Antarctic for medical treatment, he said.
     Workers at the South Pole station are isolated for months during the extremely cold winter — the first day of Antarctic winter was Monday.
     The National Science Foundation decided last week to mount the unusual rescue operation because a staffer needed medical care that can’t be provided there. The Amundsen-Scott station has a doctor, a physician’s assistant and is connected to doctors in the U.S. for consults, West said.
     The foundation has not released any information about the unidentified individual’s illness or condition but said the worker is an employee of Lockheed Martin, which provides logistical support. There are 48 people — 39 men and 9 women — at the station, West said.
     “It’s serious enough that we have considered this and are carrying out this flight,” West said. He said two workers are ill and officials were still trying to decide whether to evacuate both or just the sickest one.
     The danger with these types of flights — which have been done in 1999, 2001 and 2003 — is the dark, the cold and the weather, West said.
     The temperature Tuesday morning at the South Pole station was minus 75 degrees (minus 59 Celsius), according to Weather Underground.
     “There are a lot of things that cold effects on mechanical systems” on planes, West said. That includes fuel, which needs to be warmed before takeoff, batteries and hydraulics. The Twin Otter can fly in temperatures as low as minus 103 degrees (minus 75 degrees Celsius), he said.
     Copyright 2016 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

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