Search Team Confirms Three Canadians Killed After Plane Goes Down In Antarctic Mountains
Lawrence LeBlond for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Three Canadians who were reported missing last Wednesday after an emergency beacon on their plane started transmitting over Queen Alexandra Mountains in Antarctica, have been confirmed dead by the National Science Foundation (NSF) on Monday.
Officials with the US Antarctic Program (USAP) and Antarctica New Zealand called off their search-and-rescue efforts on Monday, saying the crash wreckage was in a perilous position on a steep mountain slope. The teams said it would be unsafe to disturb the plane´s wreckage, which had been deeply embedded in snow and ice at the site.
With the coming Antarctic winter and increasingly poor conditions, along with winds in excess of 100 mph and temperatures plummeting far below 0 degrees, any attempts of making a successful recovery were impossible.
Kelly K. Falkner, director of NSF´s Office of Polar Programs (OPP) issued the following statement:
“On behalf of the U.S. National Science Foundation and all in the U.S. Antarctic Program, I wish to extend our profound sympathies to the families, friends, and colleagues of the three Kenn Borek Twin Otter crew, whose deaths in Antarctica while en route to support the Italian national Antarctic science program have recently been confirmed.”
The three men were flying from US-operated McMurdo Station near the South Pole to Zucchelli Station in Terra Nova Bay. Rescuers believed the propeller-driven Twin Otter plane had crashed in the Queen Alexandra mountain range when the emergency locator began transmitting late Wednesday.
Search and rescue efforts were put on hold Thursday as inclement weather moved into the region, making it impossible for aircraft to see signs of wreckage and/or survivors below. After weather cleared on Friday and into the weekend, the rescue team was ultimately able to make the grisly discovery.
The man at the helm, Bob Heath of the Northwest Territories, was an experienced Antarctic and Arctic pilot. The other two men were also part of the flight crew and no other passengers were on board. The plane was also stocked with survival equipment, supplies and food.
The plane was owned and operated by Kenn Borek Air Ltd., a Canadian firm that charters flights for USAP.
The charter company issued the following statement Friday evening (Jan. 25):
“Friday evening Calgary time, a C130 Hercules aircraft of the New York Air National Guard made visual contact with the overdue aircraft in Antarctica. The sighting was confirmed approximately thirty minutes later by a Kenn Borek Air Ltd. Twin Otter aircraft deployed in a search and rescue (SAR) role. The crew of the SAR Twin Otter reports that the overdue aircraft impacted a steep snow and ice covered mountain slope. No signs of activity are evident in the area surrounding the site, and it appears that the impact was not survivable.”
Search and rescue teams made valiant efforts to reach the site over the weekend, but the rugged terrain and harsh weather conditions made it too difficult to continue.
Falkner noted that the three deaths were not in vain. “In many ways, their contributions make possible hard won but vital advances in scientific knowledge that serve all of mankind. Although everyone associated with the pursuit of science in Antarctica makes personal sacrifices to do so, very infrequently and sadly, some make the ultimate sacrifice.”