Sydney: Two Australian helicopter crews were stranded in remote Antarctica awaiting rescue on Monday, three of the group with “serious” injuries, after a chopper crash in unforgiving, icy terrain.
The Australian government’s Antarctic Division (AAD) said a pilot and two passengers were hurt when their Squirrel helicopter came down 150 nautical miles from Davis Station on Sunday night as it returned from a penguin colony surveillance mission near the Amery ice shelf.
A second helicopter flying in tandem immediately set down to assist the injured trio, and its passenger and pilot were caring for them until a recovery and medical support mission could be scrambled.
“Because of the nature of the incident and the environment their injuries are being treated as serious and awaiting further medical assessment,” the AAD said.
“Reports from the incident site are that all are warm and sheltered and being closely monitored. Communication is being maintained with Davis station.”
Rescuers were hoping a window of favourable weather would allow aircraft to be positioned for a recovery operation, with a fixed-wing Basler flying out of Davis on Monday afternoon to begin scouting rescue options.
“The Australian Antarctic Division is currently looking at aircraft assets in the immediate area and weather patterns as it organises a recovery operation,” the AAD said.
“(The Basler is) looking for viable landing areas for a Twin Otter aircraft, which it is hoped can establish a suitable staging point to begin the transfer of the injured to Davis station.”
The exact nature of the research crew and pilot’s injuries is unknown, though media reports suggested at least one had spinal damage. The group has wilderness survival training and equipment and had set up a tent to shelter the injured.
The helicopter was chartered from Victoria-based firm Helicopter Resources, who referred all questions about the incident to the AAD.
Davis is the southernmost of Australia’s three Antarctic stations, which also include Casey and Mawson, along with a sub-Antarctic station at Macquarie Island.
Forecasts were for a low of -3.1 degrees Celsius (26 Fahrenheit) at Davis on Monday night, according to Australia’s Bureau of Meteorology.
It is the second time in little more than a year that Antarctica has seen an emergency rescue mission. Australia and New Zealand carried out a risky jet landing to transport a sick scientist from the United States’ McMurdo Station last August.
Australia’s annual scientific mission to the icy continent for this Antarctic summer, which typically runs through to April, set off from Hobart in October.
Penguins are a major focus of this year’s expedition, with a team exploring the historical feeding habits of Adelie penguins in the Davis region and the implications for fisheries management.
Approximately 30 nations operate permanent research stations in Antarctica including the US, China, Russia, Australia, Britain, France and Argentina.