The New Zealand Search and Rescue Council has recognised the US Antarctic Program, which is managed by the National Science Foundation (NSF) Division of Polar Programs, for its co-operation with Antarctica New Zealand in response to the January 2013 loss of a Twin Otter aircraft and its crew in the Antarctic. On 13 May, New Zealand Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse presented a Certificate of Achievement for Operational Activity jointly to the US Antarctic Program (USAP) and Antarctica New Zealand.
“The pre-planning and the subsequent search and rescue (SAR) operation were both conducted through the McMurdo Station Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Antarctica co-ordinating with the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand,” the Council noted. “This enabled the response team to be supported, well briefed and resourced for a deep polar field rescue operation.”
Kelly K. Falkner, director of the NSF Division of Polar Programs, commented: “Antarctica offers an unparalleled range of opportunities to conduct world-class science across a range of disciplines. Unfortunately, those opportunities are not without their risks in one of the world’s harshest environments. The USAP and its international partners stand ready to assist each other at all times when dangers arise and the need occurs. We are honoured to receive this award and very pleased that it recognises the co-operative nature of our SAR response.”
Antarctica New Zealand’s general manager for operations, Added Graeme Ayres, added: “This award recognises the courage and dedication of the people from the US and New Zealand programmes who are employed as part of the Joint Search and Rescue Team (JSART). I’m proud to be receiving this award on behalf of them and Antarctica New Zealand. This response demonstrates the benefits of the collaboration between our two programmes and our continued commitment to safety of personnel working in Antarctica. Our thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of the Kenn Borek Air crew lost in this tragedy.”
The Twin Otter crash occurred on 23 January 2013 in the Queen Alexandra Range, roughly 675 km (420 miles) south of McMurdo Station, NSF’s logistics hub on the continent, and New Zealand’s Scott Base, which is near McMurdo Station. The search and rescue effort employed the JSART; an LC-130 Hercules aircraft flown by the New York Air National Guard; a DC-3 Basler and Twin Otter aircraft, flown by Kenn Borek Air Ltd, a contractor to the US programme; and PHI, Inc., the US helicopter contractor, and New Zealand helicopter support. JSART members were ferried to the remote crash site – at an elevation of roughly 3,900 m (13,000 f) – by helicopter, after having established a local staging area on Beardmore Glacier. The joint SAR effort managed to place experts at the crash site to examine the wreckage. But that examination indicated it would be unsafe to further disturb the wreckage, which was largely embedded in snow and ice on a steep slope. The team was able to recover some equipment from the exposed tail of the Twin Otter, including the cockpit voice recorder. They were unable to safely recover the remains of the crew.
The Council stated: “This operation demonstrated the strong relationship that exists between the US Antarctic Program and Antarctica New Zealand to support a unified SAR response in Antarctica.”