A Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF) C-130H Hercules aircraft made a late-night trip to Antarctica on Sunday, 11 July to evacuate a member of the United States Antarctic Program to Christchurch for medical reasons. The exact nature of the medical emergency has not been specified by the United States or New Zealand, however, it was not life-threatening.
According to the RNZAF, the C-130H Hercules left Christchurch at 10:25 pm on Sunday, landing later that night at the compacted snow of Phoenix airfield, which is located 21kms away from McMurdo Station. The crew of the Hercules landed using night vision devices, a first for the RNZAF. This was needed because Antarctica is in the midst of its dark winter, where no daylight is present.
Speaking about the Medivac, Air Component Commander Air Commodore Shaun Sexton, said:
“We were pleased to be able to assist our US partners when the call came to help with the medevac. The aircrew and supporting New Zealand and US personnel in both Antarctica and in New Zealand did an outstanding job to complete this difficult medevac”
US Chargé d’affaires in Wellington, Kevin Covert, said
“Look, it’s really valuable to have these capabilities, when you need them and as this incident shows it doesn’t matter what colour your passport is”
New Zealand is extensively used by the United States Antarctic Program as a base to support flights to Antarctica. During the summer, aircraft from the United States Air Force, including C-17 and C-130J aircraft regularly make flights to support operations. Specially configured C-130’s with skis, designated LC-130s, are also flown out of Christchurch by the New York Air National Guard in support of the mission.
Echoing a similar tone to the Chargé d’affaires, Robert Attrill, a RNZAF Flight Commander said
“The Americans help us, we help the Americans. The Italians, you know we’re all part of the same team down there and we work to help each other out”
The RNZAF’s fleet of five C-130Hs, such as the one that performed the medivac, are aging. The first (and oldest) example was acquired in 1965 and the youngest in 1969. Together, they have logged over 150,000 flight hours and are scheduled to be replaced like for like by new C-130J Hercules in the near future.