On Tuesday May, 13 New Zealand's associate transport minister, the Hon. Michael Woodhouse, presented a joint Certificate of Achievement for Operational Activity to the two national programmes.
"The pre-planning and the subsequent search-and-rescue operation were both conducted through the McMurdo Station Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) in Antarctica coordinating with the Rescue Coordination Centre NZ," the Council noted. "This enabled the response team to be supported, well briefed and resourced for a deep polar field rescue operation,"
Representatives from Antarctica New Zealand and USAP accepted the award in Wellington on behalf of all those that took part in the search-and-rescue effort.
Antarctica New Zealand's CEO Peter Beggs explained "Operating in extreme environments, Antarctica New Zealand and USAP have systems in place to prevent situations that might lead to a search-and-rescue response. It's reassuring to know that when needed there is a team of highly qualified and experienced people in the Joint Search and Rescue Team (JSART) ready to respond. This award is a great testimony of the skill, bravery and tenacity of the JSART members involved in the response to the Twin Otter incident"
The crash occurred in the Queen Alexandra Range, roughly 675 kilometers (419 miles) south of New Zealand's Scott Base and the US McMurdo Station.
The search-and-rescue effort involved the Joint Antarctic Search and Rescue Team (JASART); an LC-130 Hercules aircraft, flown by the New York Air National Guard; a DC-3 Basler and Twin Otter aircraft, flown by Kenn Borek Air, Ltd, a contractor to the USAP; and U.S. and New Zealand helicopter support.
JASART members were ferried to the remote crash site—at an elevation of roughly 3,900 meters (13,000 feet)--by helicopter, after having established a local staging area on Beardmore Glacier.
"Antarctica offers an unparalleled range of opportunities to conduct world-class science across a range of disciplines," said Kelly K. Falkner, director of the Division of Polar Programs. "Unfortunately, those opportunities are not without their risks in one of the world's harshest environments. The USAP and its international partners stand ready to assist each other at all times when dangers arise and the need occurs. We are honored to receive this award and very pleased that it recognizes the cooperative nature of our search-and-rescue response."
The joint search-and-rescue effort managed to place experts at the crash site to examine the wreckage. But that examination indicated it would be unsafe to further disturb the wreckage, which was largely embedded in snow and ice on a steep slope at altitude.
"This award recognizes the courage and dedication of the people from the US and NZ programmes who are employed as part of the Joint Search and Rescue Team (JSART). I'm proud to be receiving this
award on behalf of them and Antarctica New Zealand. This response demonstrates the benefits of the collaboration between our two programmes and our continued commitment to safety of personnel working in Antarctica. Our thoughts are with the family, friends and colleagues of the Kenn Borek Air crew lost in this tragedy" said Graeme Ayres, Antarctica New Zealand's GM Operations
The team was able to recover some equipment from the exposed tail of the Twin Otter, including the cockpit voice recorder. They were unable to safely recover the remains of the crew.
"This operation demonstrated the strong relationship that exists between the United States Antarctic Program and Antarctica New Zealand to support a unified SAR response in Antarctica," according to the Council.
For more information please contact:
Science and Communications Advisor
Antarctica New Zealand
Cell: +64 21 997 993
Outreach & Education Program Manager
National Science Foundation
Phone: +1 (703) 292 7530