Norway assists Russia on medical emergency near North Pole | Polarjournal
The Russian drift station “Severny Polyus” (Russian for North Pole) was about 440km away from the North Pole at the time of the emergency and Svalbard was the nearest search-and-rescue site. From here the evacuation started (Illustration: Arctic and Antarctic Research Institute)

Politically, the Arctic experiences icy temperatures due to the situation between Russia and the seven other Arctic countries. But, at least when it comes to search and rescue missions, thet manage to work together smoothly and objectively, as illustrated a rescue operation this week

On Tuesday afternoon, word went out from the Joint Rescue Coordination Centre for Northern Norway (JRCC) that a medical evacuation had been launched for the Russian drift station Severny Polyus. The request for evacuation came from the sea rescue authorities in Murmansk, which had themselves been informed of a medical emergency on the platform by the local physician. There is no information about the nature of the emergency or details of the person at this stage. What is certain is that at the time of the emergency the station was located about 440km from the North Pole at about 86° North, and the nearest rescue station was Longyearbyen.

The administration on Svalbard operates two Super Puma helicopters for search and rescue missions. The purpose-equipped helicopters have a range of about 860km. Thanks to a fuel depot at the northern end of Svalbard, this range can be extended (Photo: Sysselmesteren)

The JRCC jointly organised the evacuation with the Sysselmester, Svalbard’s governing authority. One of the two Super Puma helicopters stationed there, which are equipped for such missions, was used for this purpose. These large-capacity helicopters have a normal range of around 860km. However, since the Severny Polyus sits in the ice about 925km from Longyearbyen, the helicopter had to make a stopover on the northern coast of Svalbard, at a site called Vindbukta, for refuelling. This allowed the helicopter to reach the platform after about five hours and return the person to Longyearbyen, where they landed again at 2am, local time, Wednesday, according to the JRCC. Evacuating a person this close to the North Pole is likely to be a record for the JRCC and Sysselmesteren, according to a spokesperson. Never before had a helicopter flown this far north from Longyearbyen.

The Russian drifting station is on its maiden voyage, conducting various scientific studies near the North Pole. The plan was a one-year research voyage. But rumor has it that there are plans to add a second year (Photo: Roshydromet)

A joint rescue operation is not a novelty per se for Russia and Norway: both countries have agreed to work together on search-and-rescue, and in the past, the two authorities in Bodø and Murmansk had repeatedly conducted drills of this type of situation and carried out operations together. And while Russia’s attack on Ukraine has Norway preparing for conflict and imposing sanctions, and Russia increasingly provoking Norway and its allies, last month, was able to take over the chairmanship of the Arctic Council from Russia without any problems.

Dr Michael Wenger, PolarJournal

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