Search and rescue teams have located the missing aircraft that went down in Antarctica last week after being stymied for several days due to bad weather. A SAR team out of New Zealand spotted the plane from the air over the weekend and described the crash as “not survivable.” A search group consisting of specialists from that country and the U.S. was able to approach the DH-6 Twin Otter airplane yesterday, where they recovered its flight recorder and other parts. The mission was quickly called off, however, due to unsafe conditions surrounding the wreckage.
The plane was making a routine supply run from the South Pole to an Italian base located near Terra Nova Bay last Thursday when it went down, immediately activating its emergency locator beacon. Winds in excess of 100 mph and heavy snow prevented any kind of rescue operation from being mounted at the time, so SAR teams and anxious family members could only watch and wait. Once the weather improved, however, the plane was spotted on a steep mountain face near the summit of Mt. Elizabeth, a 14,698-foot peak located in the Queen Alexandra Range. It appears that it flew directly into the mountain with none of the crew surviving the impact.
Because of its location on the mountain, the plane is in an unstable position, making it unsafe to approach right now. With that in mind, search operations were called off yesterday with teams returning to their bases. The bodies of the three crew members will stay onboard the aircraft until they can be safely retrieved at a future date.
The Twin Otter aircraft was owned and operated by Kenn Borek Air based out of Calgary. The company specializes in flying scientists, explorers and adventurers to remote locations all over the globe. The pilot, Bob Heath, had a great deal of experience flying in polar conditions.
Our condolences to the friends and families of those who were killed in this crash.
[Photo Credit: Spencer Klein, NSF]