Rescue at the Bottom Of the World: Australian Medics Save American Worker

A risky international rescue flight has whisked an ailing U.S. worker from McMurdo Station to medical facilities in New Zealand.

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General view of Sor Rondane Mountains are seen on January 14, 2010 in Antarctica.

An Australian medical team successfully completed the rescue of the endangered American government worker stationed at the McMurdo station in Antarctica Wednesday night.

Due to privacy issues, the patient and his or her condition has yet to be identified, but officials confirm that the person has left Antarctica and is currently in stable condition at an emergency center in Christchurch, New Zealand.

The particulars of the government worker’s “medical emergency” have yet to be identified, but U.S. National Science Foundation spokesperson Debbie Wing said that the person likely did not go to the research station with the ailment. To be eligible for McMurdo researchers have to pass a “very rigorous health screening process.”

(PHOTOS: Life Beneath Antarctic Ice)

McMurdo station opened in 1955 and is now one of three facilities in Antarctica that conduct research year round. During the Antarctic summer the station can have up to 1,500 researchers, but during the harsh winter months, between June and September, that number can dwindle to sixty or seventy.

The already hazardous mission was particularly risky due to the winter conditions on Antarctica that only provide a few hours of feeble sunlight. After a five-hour flight from Christchurch, pilots landed during the short twilight on an ice runway. Despite the lucky moments of sun, the trip itself was still rough, with temperatures reaching -13 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although the patient is in stable condition, Wing says that his or her injuries may require more attention than the emergency center in Christchurch can offer.

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Australian pilots took over the rescue effort since there was no American aircraft that could accommodate such a journey quickly enough. Australian Antarctic Division director Tony Fleming pointed out that all countries with research facilities or interest in Antarctica have been known to “work together very cooperatively in these sorts of emergency situations in Antarctica to provide support when and as required.”

The last such rescue mission was launched in October 2011 when a scientist suffered a stroke at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

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