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National Science Foundation Transports Two Norwegian Expeditioners To Safety

March 1, 2011

Two men of the private Berserk expedition were flown on a U.S. Air Force transport

Two Norwegian citizens who were part of a private expedition that failed in its attempt to reach the South Pole have been flown from Antarctica to Christchurch, New Zealand aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane, National Science Foundation (NSF) officials have announced.

Karl Erb, who heads the U.S Antarctic Program (USAP), which is managed by NSF, said the two arrived in Christchurch around midday on Monday, Feb. 28 New Zealand time aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 transport plane that was returning USAP participants to New Zealand at the end of the Antarctic research season.

The men were part of a private expedition consisting of five people that were attempting to reach the geographic South Pole.

Officials with the Norwegian Polar Institute confirmed the group did not have the permission required by the Norwegian government of its citizens to carry out an expedition in Antarctica.

The three other members, two Norwegians and one person believed to hold dual U.K./South African citizenship, were also the subjects of an intensive search last week after a signal from their yacht’s automated distress beacon was detected on Feb. 22 in the Ross Sea, roughly 18 nautical miles north of McMurdo Station. Conditions at the time of the distress call were severe with extremely high winds and rough seas.

The men were part of the Berserk expedition, named after the group’s Norwegian-flagged vessel.

The fate of those aboard the Berserk itself is unknown. An international search has been underway since the distress call was detected, coordinated through New Zealand, involving the Royal New Zealand Navy vessel HMNZS Wellington; the M/V Steve Irwin, a rescue vessel deployed to assist in the search and the Spirit of Enderby, a privately operated tour ship. The beacon’s signal fell silent less than two days after first being detected.

On Thursday afternoon, the two men of the expedition’s shore party, who were en route to the Pole on an all-terrain vehicle, made contact with the rescue center in New Zealand, then began making their way back to Scott Base, a New Zealand research station near NSF’s McMurdo Station on the southern tip of Ross Island.

The flight carrying the two men was the next-to-last flight from McMurdo Station before the end of the austral summer season. NSF recently completed summer research support activities in Antarctica and had begun preparing to enter the winter-over period when there are no routine flight operations between McMurdo and New Zealand from late February to early October.

Erb said that the nature of the situation was sufficiently severe that USAP assisted the search effort in keeping with policies of providing assistance to non-governmental groups in potentially life-threatening emergencies.

In addition to flying the two men to New Zealand aboard a regularly scheduled flight, USAP also provided fuel at McMurdo Station to a helicopter from the M/V Steve Irwin, a rescue vessel deployed to assist in the search for the Berserk and its passengers.

Erb noted that it was critical to get the two men out of Antarctica because the 2010-2011 research season is drawing to its close. All personnel at Scott Base and McMurdo Station who are not essential to the operation of those year-round stations are redeploying through New Zealand.

Two flights remained in the schedule and the decision was made by USAP, which pools its airlift capability with New Zealand, to bring the two men back aboard the U.S. C-17.

NSF manages the USAP, through which it coordinates all U.S. science and related logistical support on the southernmost continent and aboard research vessels in the Southern Ocean.

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