January 24, 2013
Three Canadians Believed To Have Crashed In Antarctic Mountains, Rescue Delayed Due To Bad Weather
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Three Canadians who were aboard a small plane flying over the Antarctic are presumably missing after an emergency locator started transmitting a signal Wednesday night. Matters were complicated when bad weather forced a search and rescue mission to go on hold.
The flight was going from the US-operated McMurdo Station near the South Pole to Zucchelli Station, an Italian research base in Terra Nova Bay. The emergency locator began going off around 10 p.m. Wednesday night in the Queen Alexandra mountain range about 280 miles north of the Pole, about halfway to its intended destination. Authorities are assuming the worst.
The emergency locator continued to transmit into Thursday and rescue crews spent about 5 hours circling above the mountain range in a DC3 plane in search of the locator. But as heavy clouds and high-winds started moving in, the view below became obstructed and the crew was forced to retreat.
The pilot, identified as Bob Heath from the Northwest Territories, was an experienced pilot in both Antarctic and Arctic climates. His wife, Lucy Heath, told the Calgary Sun newspaper that she had been called by airline officials and told of the news.
“Kenn Borek just phoned me to say Bob´s plane was down, and they were trying to reach it,” she said from the couple´s home in the Northwest Territories. “I´m just waiting for news.”
Authorities from New Zealand, Canada, the US and Italy will try again on Friday to find the plane and its occupants. The propeller-driven de Havilland Twin Otter plane was also carrying survival equipment, tents and food, said John Ashby, coordinator of the NZ Search and Rescue Mission.
The weather deteriorated as the rescue crew circled over the mountain range. Ashby said on Thursday the “weather conditions are extremely challenging.” Winds had approached 104 mph and heavy snow was predicted. He said several planes and helicopters were on standby, waiting for conditions to improve so they could return to the site.
As bad weather was forecast to clear out Friday morning, Ashby said rescue teams should get a shot to get out there sometime during the day as long as the weather improved.
The missing plane is owned and operated by Kenn Borek Air Ltd., a Canadian firm based in Calgary that charters flights to the US Antarctic program. However, according to the NSF, the plane was on an Italian Antarctic mission when it went missing.
Below Image: Zucchelli Station on Terra Nova Bay where the three Canadians were flying when the plane went missing. Credit: Andrew Mandemaker/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 3.0)