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Archive for Wednesday, April 25, 2001

South Pole rescue halfway done

April 25, 2001

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— A small propeller plane fitted with skis landed safely Tuesday night at the South Pole, completing the first part of a dangerous mission to rescue an ailing American doctor.

Flying through the pitch black of the polar winter, the eight-seat Twin Otter concluded its 10-hour flight from Rothera base on the Antarctic peninsula across from Chile to Amundsen Scott-South Pole station at 7:02 p.m. CDT.

"They landed safely and without any problems" said Valerie Carroll, a spokeswoman for U.S.-based Raytheon Polar Services.

She said that the plane's crew would remain at the pole for 10 hours to rest, refuel and assess Dr. Ronald Shemenski's condition. They were expected to fly out early this morning.

Even though the howling winds and blinding snow had eased, temperatures at the South Pole dipped to minus 76 degrees, or 119 degrees below zero with wind chill. Forecasters said visibility had improved to five miles with gusting winds and blowing snow.

It was the second dramatic rescue attempt in 24 hours. Earlier Tuesday, a New Zealand air force plane successfully evacuated 11 American staffers from a research station on the other side of the frozen continent.

Flights to the South Pole are normally halted from late February until November because of the extreme cold and darkness. But health emergencies at the isolated, frigid Antarctic outposts forced rescuers in both operations to make the dangerous flights.

The rescue team included two pilots, an engineer, a nurse and a replacement physician for the polar station.

The only physician among 50 researchers working at the polar station, the 59-year-old Shemenski recently suffered a gall bladder attack and has been diagnosed with the potentially life-threatening condition known as pancreatitis.

A registered nurse at the South Pole helped take ultrasound images that were sent back to doctors in the United States for diagnosis. Pancreatitis is the inflammation of the pancreas and can happen when a gallstone passes down the bile duct, irritating the gland.

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