Wings Magazine

Rescue aircraft to Antarctica forced to turn around

Jan. 24, 2013, Antarctica - A rescue flight on its way to a group of Canadians stranded in Antarctica has had to turn around because of bad weather that isn't expected to improve for at least 12 hours.

January 25, 2013  By The Canadian Press

But those who know the pilot of the downed Twin Otter say that if anyone would know how to get through, it would be Bob Heath.

"He's a bit of a living legend up (North),'' said friend and fellow pilot Sebastien Seykora. "He's a very experienced pilot.''

The missing airplane began transmitting signals from its emergency
locator beacon early Wednesday. Aircraft tried twice to spot it later
that day, but failed due to heavy, low cloud.

Early indications on Thursday were that the cloud had lifted a bit. But those hopes were dashed when the plane got in the air.


"They've gone out and flown over and they haven't been able to see
anything,'' said Steve Rendle from New Zealand's Rescue Co-ordination
Centre. "They are heading back to a fuelling depot to wait out the

No information was available on the fate of the three men aboard the
ski-equipped Twin Otter, which is owned by Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air. Those who know Heath said he'll know what to do.

"He's been flying down there for at least a decade,'' said Seykora. "If
somebody had a question about how to do things, especially about going
down there, he would be the guy they would ask.''

Heath teaches younger flyers and administers tests to other pilots.

"From what Bob's co-pilot said, he was a lot of fun to fly with,''
Seykora said. "And he did a good job of mentoring the co-pilots. One of
the more pleasant guys to fly with.''

Heath's Twin Otter was well-equipped with survival equipment, including
mountain tents and supplies which could last five days. The area is
experiencing heavy snow and winds of up to 170 kilometres an hour.

The site from which the plane's beacon is emitting signals is roughly
four hours by helicopter from an American base at McMurdo Station. It a
two-hour flight by the DC-3 aircraft.

The missing plane's signal came from the north end of Antarctica's Queen
Alexandra range – about halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo
Station – and the terrain is considered mountainous.

Authorities in Canada have been in contact with officials organizing the
search in New Zealand. Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs said
officials from the Canadian High Commission in Wellington are working
closely with local authorities.

"Search and rescue operations are currently underway. Consular officials
stand ready to provide consular services as required,'' said
spokeswoman Barbara Harvey.

Kenn Borek Air, which is experienced in Antarctic aviation, did not
provide any details on the three crew members on board the missing
twin-engine propeller aircraft.

A spokesman for the U.S. National Science Foundation – which operates an Antarctic research station helping in the search – said the trio aboard the plane was thought to be a pilot, a co-pilot and a flight engineer.

The plane was flying from the South Pole to an Italian base in
Antarctica's Terra Nova Bay. The region is in New Zealand's area of responsibility and that country's rescue crews were working with U.S., Canadian and Italian authorities.

Kenn Borek Air has been in operation since 1970. According to the
company's website, 14 aircraft participated in its 2012 Antarctic season.

The company, which is also a fixture in Canada's North, has been sending planes to Antarctica for the past 28 years.

In 2001, its pilots and planes were involved in the daring rescue of an
ailing American doctor from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station.

In 2009, the company was commissioned to recover an aircraft that had
been involved in an accident nearly a year earlier. A 12-person Kenn Borek recovery crew spent 25 days at a remote field camp on the
eastern side of the Antarctic Plateau to carry out the operation.


Stories continue below