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Medical team heads to Antarctica to rescue US expeditioner

Updated at 8:30 a.m. ET: A medical team was heading to Antarctica on Wednesday in a bid to rescue an ailing American expeditioner.

The Australian team of five landed in Christchurch, New Zealand, on Wednesday night. Team members were monitoring the weather in Antarctica before flying on to McMurdo Station in their Australian Airbus319 aircraft by the end of the week, conditions permitting, officials with the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) and the U.S. National Science Foundation told NBC News.


The Australian Antarctic Division is a branch of the government's environment department.

Debbie Wing of the National Science Foundation told NBC News that a a U.S. C-17 aircraft was on standby in case the Airbus could not manage the trip.

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The National Science Foundation had asked for help on the emergency mission and were in charge of the operation, AAD spokeswoman Patti Lucas Lucas told NBC News. Australian officials did not have any details as to the expeditioner's age or sex, she added.

McMurdo Station, established in 1955, is the largest Antarctic station, according to the National Science Foundation.


According to the U.S. Antarctic Program's website:

"McMurdo Station ... the main U.S. station in Antarctica, is a coastal station at the southern tip of Ross Island, about 3,864 km (2,415 miles) south of Christchurch, New Zealand, and 1,360 km (850 miles) north of the South Pole. The original station was built in 1955 to 1956 for the International Geophysical Year. Today's station is the primary logistics facility for supply of inland stations and remote field camps, and is also the waste management center for much of the U.S. Antarctic Program. Year-round and summer science projects are supported at McMurdo."

AAD director Tony Fleming earlier told the AFP news service that all countries with an interest in Antarctica "work together very cooperatively in these sorts of emergency situations in Antarctica to provide support when and as required."

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A 58-year-old New Hampshire woman who's been working at the South Pole on Monday flew out of the research station she'd been living in for a year. Renee-Nicole Douceur fell ill at the end of August and asked to be airlifted out. NBC's Anne Thompson reports.

Similar evacuations from the icy continent rare, with the last such rescue having happened in October 2011, when an American scientist suffered a stroke at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station and had to be airlifted out

Around 30 countries operate permanent research stations in Antarctica, the AFP reported. 

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