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Air Guard Conducts Medical Evacuation in Antarctica

Air Force Maj. Sam Highley, Special to American Forces Press Service

An LC-130 Hercules sits on an improvised ice runway at Davis Station, Antarctica, Nov. 3, 2008. A U.S. and Australian medical team moved an injured Australian civilian aboard the aircraft from the camp to a hospital in Hobart, Australia. The mission was flown as part of Operation Deep Freeze, commanded by U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica at Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii. Courtesy photo

HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE, Hawaii, Nov. 6, 2008

A combined U.S. and Australian team evacuated an Australian civilian in Antarctica to a hospital in Hobart, Australia, yesterday.

The seriously injured patient was part of an Australian Antarctic Division contingent conducting scientific research at Davis Station, Antarctica. He was reported to be in stable condition while receiving medical care in Hobart for multiple fractures caused by an all-terrain vehicle accident.

A medical team flew 1,500 miles from McMurdo Station in Antarctica to Davis Station Nov. 3 aboard an LC-130 Hercules from the New York Air National Guard's 109th Airlift Wing, based out of Stratton Air National Guard Base, N.Y. The ski-equipped aircraft landed on an improvised runway prepared by Davis Station personnel earlier in the week.

The medical team, along with aircrew members and an aircraft maintenance team, spent the night at Davis Station to rest, refuel the aircraft and prepare the patient before beginning the 10-hour flight to Hobart on Nov. 4.

The mission was flown as part of Operation Deep Freeze, which is commanded by U.S. Pacific Command's Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica. With headquarters here and led by 13th Air Force, JTF SFA's mission is to provide airlift and sealift support to the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic Program.

The medical team consisted of an Australian doctor and nurse, a joint medical attendant transport team composed of three Army medical personnel from Tripler Army Medical Center, Hawaii, and three Air Force medical personnel forward-deployed to McMurdo.

Air Force Capt. (Dr.) Greg Richert, the onboard flight surgeon, said the successful medical movement symbolized two things for him.

"One is the very effective medical movement capability we have here in the Pacific region, and the other is the strong partnership between the National Science Foundation, the Australian Antarctic Division and Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica," Richert said.

The captain, who is forward-deployed from 13th Air Force to McMurdo Station as the JTF SFA flight surgeon, said it was especially gratifying to use the team's medical movement capability to help the Australians in Antarctica.

"The United States and Australia have long enjoyed a strong bond, and it was really evident in how our combined team was able to help this patient in his time of need," Richert said.

Tony Press, director of the Australian Antarctic Division, said he was grateful for the support the United States provided.

"It's a tribute to our excellent relationship with the U.S. Antarctic Program and a fantastic example of the collaboration that typifies Antarctic operations," Press said.

The movement was the first major mission for the LC-130 in the current Operation Deep Freeze season. The New York unit is the only unit in the Air Force that operates the LC-130 Hercules, which can land on snow or ice surfaces throughout Antarctica thanks to its ski-equipped landing gear. The plane also has wheels for landing on prepared hard surfaces.

(Air Force Maj. Sam Highley serves in the Joint Task Force Support Forces Antarctica Public Affairs Office.)

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