Australian jet lands in Antarctica on rescue mission

An Australian government jet carrying a medical team made a successful landing on an icy runway in Antarctica Thursday to rescue a sick scientist from the United States' McMurdo Station base.

The Australian Antarctic Division (AAD), a branch of the government's environment department, said the US National Science Foundation (NSF) had requested assistance in the tricky emergency mission.

NSF spokeswoman Debbie Wing said no US aircraft were available so Australia agreed to loan an Australian A319 Airbus to fly the patient out. The Royal New Zealand Air Force provided search-and-rescue coverage for the flight.

"Our plane left Christchurch, New Zealand, this morning and has landed at McMurdo Station. It will be leaving again for Christchurch shortly," AAD spokeswoman Patti Lucas told AFP.

Antarctica is emerging from a six-month period of night and the temperature Thursday was -25 Celsius (-13F). The spokeswoman said the pilots would only have made the trip if weather conditions were suitable.

"There's been a successful landing and as far as we are aware, the rescue is proceeding as expected," Lucas added.

Wing did not identify the patient but said he or she "is currently stable but may require immediate corrective surgery best delivered at a more capable facility than available at McMurdo".

AAD director Tony Fleming said all nations with an interest on the icy continent "work together very cooperatively in these sorts of emergency situations in Antarctica to provide support when and as required".

Medical evacuations from Antarctica are relatively infrequent, with the last such rescue taking place in October 2011, when a US scientist was airlifted from McMurdo after suffering a stroke at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations in Antarctica including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina.

McMurdo Station, on the southern tip of Ross Island, is some 3,864 kilometres (2,415 miles) south of Christchurch. It has landing strips on both the sea ice and shelf ice, which are used at different times of the year.

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