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McChord crew makes rescue flight to South Pole for ailing researcher

Post by Adam Ashton / The News Tribune on Oct. 17, 2011 at 3:53 pm with 8 Comments »
October 17, 2011 5:35 pm
David Alexander/AP People disembark from a U.S. Air Force plane which is said to be carrying sick U.S. woman Renee-Nicole Douceur, a manager for research station contractor Raytheon Polar Services Co., who suffered a stroke in August at the South Pole.

A Joint Base Lewis-McChord Air Force crew made a life-saving trip to Antarctica today to rescue a researcher who reportedly suffered a stroke on the icy continent in late August.

Renee-Nicole Douceur, 58, of Seabrook., N.H., is getting medical help today. She told CBS’ Today Show she was “feeling elated” to be off the Amundsen-Scott research station and in a hospital.

Weather complications held up her rescue. So did concerns from her employer, Raytheon Polar Services, she said in her interview with CBS.

Her flight to Christchurch, New Zealand is the second medical rescue McChord-based crews have performed in Antarctica this year. The first came in late June when a McChord team rescued a sick contractor at Antarctica’s McMurdo Station. Seven McChord-based airmen received Air Medals for that risky flight.

Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle of Lewis-McChord’s 446th Reserve Airlift Wing confirmed that a crew from the base south of Tacoma made the flight. The active-duty 62nd Airlift Wing also had airmen on the rescue. Both wings are working to confirm who was on the flight so they can recognize the airmen.

Lewis-McChord’s 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings have been supplying National Science Foundation work in Antarctica for more than a decade through a mission dubbed Operation Deep Freeze. Airmen from those units fly Boeing-made C-17 Globemaster IIIs in the world’s most challenging peacetime conditions to deliver food, materials and people to McMurdo Station.

Leave a comment Comments → 8
  1. jbfrombremerton says:

    Air Medals???????—-gag me! Typical USAF reaction for someone doing what they’ve been trained to do. I heard of an F-111 WSO who got an air medal for holding his flashlight on the instruments when the machine had an electrical failure. GMAB! If you got an air medal in the Navy you knew you earned it. Geez…..

  2. to jbfrombremerton- You ever been to Antarctica? Cold and miserable on most days! These airmen did earn this medal. Military do not issue medals for someone just holding a flashlight- there was more to that. Have you ever been in the military? They are really very brave people who go up, over, out and beyond for this country and the people. I am very proud of the military personnel. So glad they were able to fly in and get this person to a medical facility. There are big risks at what they do.

  3. alindasue says:

    I’m just wondering why they didn’t have a crew from closer to Antartica do the rescue. Was the team at JBLM the closest crew available to make the flight? That’s a long time to wait for a medical transport.

    Antarctica is not an easy flight at the best of times. The crew that did the rescue in July were flying in under extreme mid-winter conditions. They deserve any commendations they received.

    Although I still have to wonder why crews are being sent to Antarctica from nearly the other side of the world. Does JBLM have a special type rescue unit that they don’t have anywhere else?

  4. Adam Ashton says:

    Alindasue, that’s a good question. This crew didn’t fly all the way from McChord to New Zealand and then to Antarctica. They’re stationed in New Zealand to support the scientific work at McMurdo. It’s a deployment of four to six months, similar to assignments these crews receive to support the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  5. alindasue says:

    Thank you for the clarification, Mr. Ashton. Now that makes a lot more sense.

  6. SPWO2011 says:

    The inaccuracy here is rather breath-taking. For many people, the terms “South Pole” and “Antarctica” are synonymous, but the headline here is like saying “Plane flies to Chicago” when it actually landed in Miami. The McChord C-17 flew from New Zealand to McMurdo Station, not as part of a mercy mission but as part of a regularly-scheduled series of thrice-weekly flights that will take place October-February (inclusive). It just happened that this particular flight coincided with the arrival of the patient from South Pole to McMurdo, an 850 mile trip that was accomplished by a Kenn Borek Air Basler (DC-3) that came through South Pole via Rothera Base on the Antarctic Peninsula. There was NOTHING heroic about the C-17 flight, although they did wait for about two hours beyond their scheduled McMurdo departure time in order to allow the Basler to land and the patient to board the C-17. If that deserves medals, I guess I’m with the first commenter above.

    This is in contrast to the July flight to McMurdo, in which the plane DID come all the way from WA solely to pick up the patient, and which involved a landing in the dark and in much colder conditions than prevail now at McMurdo. Whether that deserves medals is not for me to say, but it certain was at least an order of magnitude more deserving than this absolutely routine operation.

  7. Your headlines are misleading. As a individual who worked 4 seasons on the ice. I can say that a C17 cannot land at the Spoth Pole. All the South Pole has is a ski way. An LC 130 (Ski equipped) or a Ski Equipped Twin Otter probably brought her down to McMurdo’s “Pegasas Runway” and then the C17 Crew flew her up to “Cheech” Christchurch, NZ.

  8. Adam_Ashton says:

    Ok, thanks for setting me straight. I understand that a different Canadian company made the flight to pick up the researcher and bring her to McMurdo, where the McChord crew took over.

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