Difficult evacuation from Antarctica | Polarjournal
The Davis Station is the southernmost Australian research station in Antarctica. Established to mark the International Geophysical Year from January 12, 1957, it is considered a key station in Australia’s network of research stations and with 70 scientists, hosts the largest number during the summer season. Usually, 22 researchers overwinter on this station. (Photo: Greg Stone, AAD, courtesy of AAD).

A complex international Medevac (Medical Evacuation) operation is underway currently in Antarctica. An Australian researcher has to be evacuated from Davis Station with the help of China and the United States. The Australian Antarctic Program stated on Monday that two separate ice runways for aircraft are being built as part of a complex operation to bring the patient back to Australia from Australia’s Davis Research Station. The patient has an undisclosed medical condition but it is not related to Covid-19.

Today, Australian and Chinese flags fly at the Davis Research Station. (Photo: Dave Knoff, courtesy of the AAD)

Kim Ellis, the director of the Australian Antarctic Division, said the medical evacuation process relied on outside assistance. “This operation is a testament to the strong international cooperation that exists in Antarctica, where nations band together and support each other in what can be a hostile and challenging environment,” Ellis said. “We are really pleased this first stage of this multi-phased operation, involving helicopters, planes and ships, is underway.”

A Chinese helicopter lands at Davis Research Station as part of the Medevac operation. The Chinese icebreaker “MV Xue Long 2” stopped in front of Davis Station on its way to the Chinese station and offered its assistance. (Photo: Dan Dyer, courtesy of the AAD)

In Australia, there are no planes carrying ski equipment for flights to Antarctica this year due to concerns about the introduction of the COVID-19 virus. Therefore, for a proper evacuation, a runway must first be built behind Davis Station. Weather permitting, a five-person team will be flown by helicopter from Davis Station to a ski landing site on the ice plateau behind the station. Construction of the landing site near Davis will take 3-5 days.

The “Basler BT-67” is a modified version of the Douglas DC-3, powered by two turboprop engines. This type of aircraft will be used mostly in remote regions for special missions. Worldwide there are probably still about 40 machines registered. (Photo: Paul Helleman AAD, courtesy of AAD).

1,400 kilometers away, another team is simultaneously preparing to open the runway at “Wilkins Aerodrome.” near the Casey research station. “Wilkins has a larger runway where a ski-equipped “Basler” plane coming from the U.S. McMurdo station can land before proceeding to Davis to pick up the patient from the Davis station and bring him back to the “Wilkins Aerodrome”.”

The runway “Wilkins Aerodrome” is located at the Australian Casey Station and is regularly approached by an Airbus A-319.

Once at “Wilkins Aerodrome”, the patient will be flown out to Hobart on an Airbus A319. “This operation is complex and involves ships, planes and helicopters as well as aligning weather windows in a notoriously challenging environment. The team in Australia and Antarctica are working around the clock to undertake this medevac in a timely and safe manner,” said Kim Ellis explaining the challenging evacuation.

While a “Basler BT-67” flies from McMurdo to the “Wilkins Airodrome”, a runway is being built outside Davis Station with the help of a helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker “MV Xue Long 2”. After completion of the ice runway, the “Basler BT-67” will pick up the patient from the Davis station 1,400 kilometres away and bring him back to Wilkins. From the “Wilkins Airodrome” the patient is then flown out to Hobart on an A-319. (Graphic: Heiner Kubny)

In addition, precautions will be taken to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into Antarctica, including quarantine periods, social distancing, and a thorough cleaning of the aircraft used.

Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal

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