A crew of Joint Base Lewis-McChord airmen last week made an unscheduled and risky flight to Antarctica to evacuate an ailing contractor.
Lewis-McChord regularly sends crews to Antarctica for Operation Deep Freeze, a mission that calls on the Air Force to supply researchers and scientists at McMurdo Station. They call the flights exceptionally challenging because of the continent’s unique conditions, such as sudden storms or the South Pole’s tendency to disrupt a plane’s instruments.
The Air Force said the Lewis-McChord crew used night vision equipment while navigating around volcanic ash to fly a C-17 Globemaster from an airfield in Christchurch, New Zealand to Antarctica. The crew included airmen from Lewis-McChord’s 62nd Airlift Wing and 446th Reserve Airlift Wing, who provided medical care to the contractor while they were in air.
“There were so many variables that we had to deal with and consider, from local earthquakes to the hazard of volcanic ash and severe weather in Antarctica – the combination of elements faced here makes these types of missions a little more challenging.” said Chief Master Sgt. Connie Hoffman, of the Air Force’s Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica.
The flight got the sick contractor to a New Zealand hospital some 4,600 miles from his base in Antarctica.
“Flying into Antarctica is always a challenge, though we have the training and experience to make operations such as this one routine,” said Lt. Col. Robert Wellington, 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander, permanently stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.