A risky flight to Antarctica under a tight deadline earned three South Sound reserve airmen commendations Friday for the roles they played in getting medical care to an ailing contractor at a science station on the icy continent last month.
They received the Air Medal, which recognizes “meritorious achievement” in flight, from Air Force Gen. Raymond Johns Jr.
Their June 30 flight from Christchurch, New Zealand to Antarctica’s McMurdo Station caught the attention of Air Force leaders because it involved flying under exceptionally difficult circumstances while providing medical care to the contractor.
The airmen have been restrained in describing their actions in delivering the contractor to a New Zealand hospital on 4,600-mile flight through the South Pole’s winter.
“Flying into Antarctica is always a challenge, though we have the training and experience to make operations such as this one routine,” Lt. Col. Robert Wellington of Lewis-McChord’s 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron told an Air Force writer earlier this month.
Pilots call the trip to McMurdo the most dangerous non-combat flight in the Air Force. It involves sudden weather changes and the possibility that the South Pole could disrupt flying instruments.
The airmen honored Friday belong to Lewis-McChord’s 446th Reserve Airlift Wing, which for more than a decade has participated in annual missions delivering supplies to Antarctica for the National Science Foundation. It’s partnered with Lewis-McChord’s active-duty fleet, the 62nd Airlift Wing, on that assignment.
The local airmen who earned the commendations are:
Lt. Col. Montgomery McDaniel of Federal Way, a United Airlines pilot.
Chief Master Sgt. James Masura of Graham, a full a full-time Air Force loadmaster.
Master Sgt. Scot Dellinger of Lakewood, a Kent firefighter.
McDaniel is a veteran of 23 flights to Antarctica since 2005. He was understated, too, in talking about the rescue flight when he spoke with an Air Force public affairs writer.
“Without diminishing the excitement or achievement that this professional group just accomplished – the flight itself was nearly routine, just very dark and very cold,” he said.