Australia Lands Airbus A319 In Antarctica For Rescue Mission

Yesterday, an Airbus A319 landed in Antarctica in response to a medical emergency. The aircraft was flown by the Australian Antarctic Division to the frozen continent. The reason? To bring a US citizen to safety where they could receive medical treatment.

AAD A319 in Antarctica
The AAD deploys an Airbus A319 to Antarctica. Photo: Clive Srauss via Australian Antarctic Division

What happened?

It’s not every day you hear about commercial aircraft flying to Antarctica. However, earlier this week that’s exactly what an Airbus A319 did. On Friday 13th March, the Australian Antarctic Division (AAD) received a call from the US Antarctic Program in regard to a medical emergency. One of their team based in the east of Antarctica at the McMurdo station was in need of treatment that could not be locally administered.

With the temperature well below freezing, the AAD set out on a 3,500km rescue mission to save the program member. The aircraft was based in Hobart, Tasmania, and arrived at the McMurdo base with a capable staff unit. Onboard were medical and aeromedical teams and a specialist retrieval unit. Despite the bracing conditions, the aircraft was able to land safely on the frozen continent and transfer the casualty to a hospital in Christchurch.

The aircraft flew between Tasmania, Antarctica and New Zealand. Photo: Great Circle Mapper

In response to the rescue effort, Charlton Clark, the General Manager of Antarctic Operations & Safety at the Australian Antarctic Division, said that everything went as well as they could have hoped. Speaking in a press release, Mr. Clark said:

“The conditions on the ground were challenging, when the Airbus landed at McMurdo station it was around minus 30 degrees Celsius with wind chill…We are really pleased to be able to assist the United States Antarctic Program as a first-responder in this emergency and it’s a real testament to the great spirit of cooperation between Antarctic nations.”

A safe rescue at an unlikely time

What’s most unusual about this rescue mission is that the A319 made the journey to Antarctica out of peak season. Many expeditions in Antarctica do not operate in the winter and the fact that this one did could have made the expedition that much harder. As Antarctica’s summer is from October to February, and its winter cover March to September, conditions in Antarctica during this season are unlikely to be favorable.

That said, thanks to the collaboration of these teams, the passenger was safely transferred and the A319 proved an optimal resource.

At that point, however, one might wonder how the Australian Antarctic Division got hold of an A319.  After all, the aircraft is more commonly used by commercial airlines for leisure and business travel.

Well, it’s likely that the Australian Antarctic Division invested in reliable aircraft for situations like the above. This particular A319 is on loan to the division from Australian airline Skytraders. The aircraft is one of three A319-100 aircraft that the airline owns which are all around 15 years old.

So, why was the A319-100 the best for the rescue mission in the Antarctic?

The Airbus A319’s suitability for the mission

Australia Lands Airbus A319 In Antarctica For Rescue Mission
The AAD use the A319 specifically for Antarctic missions. Photo: Eli Duke via Wikimedia Commons

The A319 was chosen specifically by the Australian Antarctic Division to manage its operations. Adapted for the short- to medium-haul market, the aircraft is well-suited for the return journey between Hobart and Antarctica without refueling. In this case, it was also able to tackle the distance from Antarctica to New Zealand.

The aircraft is used for around 20 flights in the summer season when most expeditions occur in Antarctica and each takes a total of four hours and 30 minutes to reach the continent from Hobart. As a result of the frequent operations that the aircraft undertakes, the emergency flight to the US Antarctic Program base would not have presented any more problems than a routine scheduled flight.

Nevertheless, the competence of the crew aboard the A319 on this occasion must be highly praised.

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