SYDNEY - An Australian rescue team swooped into Antarctica on Thursday to evacuate an American experiencing a medical emergency at a U.S. scientific base in a rare midwinter rescue from the frozen continent.
The specialist medical team from the Australian Antarctic Division left Christchurch, New Zealand, on Thursday morning and landed on an ice runway near the U.S. McMurdo research station in the early afternoon, said Deborah Wing, spokeswoman for the U.S. National Science Foundation, which runs the station.
The patient, whose identity has not been released, is in stable condition, but may need "immediate corrective surgery," according to the foundation. Wing said she could not give any additional details on the patient or the nature of the medical emergency, due to privacy laws.
"The facility at McMurdo is equivalent to an urgent-care center in the U.S., and is not equipped for the type of procedure being contemplated," the foundation said in a statement.
It is winter in Antarctica and there is only a narrow window of light every day. The rescue team timed the landing to coincide with the brief bright period, and was expected to land back in Christchurch by Thursday evening. The medical team is flying on an Airbus A319, with the Royal New Zealand Air Force providing search-and-rescue coverage for the flight.
The patient will be treated at a Christchurch hospital, Wing said.
Flights to Antarctica are usually made only during the summer, though there have been midwinter medical evacuations before. The most famous was the dramatic 1999 rescue of a female American doctor who was in need of breast cancer treatment.