A specialist medical team from Australia was dispatched to the McMurdo Station in Antarctica to airlift an ill American to a hospital in New Zealand. NBC's Keith Miller reports.
Updated at 8: 01 a.m. ET: An Australian team successfully evacuated a member of a U.S. government Antarctic expedition in apparent need of urgent surgery on Thursday, after a rare mid-winter emergency flight involving landing on an ice runway.
"The patient has been taken to (a) hospital for treatment in Christchurch," spokeswoman Patti Lucas of the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) research program told NBC News. Australian officials did not have details about the expeditioner's age or sex, she added.
The pilots took advantage of the short twilight to land the plane, after completing the most perilous part of its journey when it touched down after the five-hour flight from Christchurch, New Zealand, The Australian reported.
The plane landed on an ice runway known as Pegasus near McMurdo Station, one of a handful of landing strips in Antarctica that can accommodate wheeled aircraft.
During the rescue temperatures hit -13 F at the station, one of three year-round research outposts the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) runs in Antarctica, although otherwise conditions were described as "perfect," The Australian reported.
Marianne Okal / AFP - Getty Images, file
An Australian A319 Airbus sits in the U.S.'s McMurdo Station on the southern tip of Ross Island in Antarctica. An Australian government A319 carrying a medical team made a successful landing on the station's ice runway on Thursday to rescue a sick American scientist.
Flights to Antarctica are usually only made in the summer, but the NSF on Wednesday said the patient "may require immediate corrective surgery."
The NSF's Debbie Wing earlier told NBC News that a U.S. C-17 aircraft was on standby in case the Airbus could not manage the trip.
The NSF had asked for help on the emergency mission and were in charge of the operation.
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."
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.
Reuters contributed to this report.
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