Aircrew from 109th Airwing in NY making emergency trip to Antarctica
By DENNIS YUSKO | Times Union, Albany, N.Y. | Published: February 27, 2016
SCOTIA, N.Y. (Tribune News Service) — Members of the Scotia-based 109th Airlift Wing were expected to fly 1,400 miles across Antarctica on Friday to pick up 35 stranded Australian researchers.
The eight-person New York National Guard crew will use its ski-equipped L-C130 to extricate members of the expedition from Davis research station after a ship that was supposed to carry the Australians home ran aground in driving snow and freezing temperatures, according to the U.S. National Science Foundation.
"What happened there was extremely bad weather at Mawson, an Australian station," said Peter West, spokesman for the National Science Foundation.
The 109th flight will take off, weather permitting, from McMurdo Station, the science foundation's primary research center, on Friday afternoon East Coast time, West said.
Sixty-eight crew members remain on the ship Aurora Australis, which was stuck at West Arm in Horseshoe Harbour, according to the Australian Antarctic Division. All are safe.
It's the end of the summer and research season in Antarctica and the weather is turning colder. The 109th crew will transfer the researchers to Casey research station for transport home.
"It is not a particularly hazardous flight," West said. "We are pleased to help out the Australians because we have an excellent working relationship with them."
The 109th Airlift Wing is based at Stratton Air National Guard Base and draws the bulk of its strength from the Capital Region. Currently, 125 of the unit's airmen are stationed at McMurdo Station and Christchurch, New Zealand, in support of the National Science Foundation. Its four L-C130 planes have been used for decades in connection with the foundation's research missions in Antarctica and Greenland. The aircraft are the Air Force's only planes equipped with skis.
In 1999, a team with the 109th Airlift Wing rescued Dr. Jerri Nielsen from the South Pole so she could undergo medical treatment for cancer she diagnosed while at the remote base.
"The 109th has supported our mission for a very long time, and we're always happy with the relationship we have in the Air Guard," West said.
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