Kenn Borek Air crews honoured with Smithsonian award for perilous South Pole rescue mission – Calgary

A 10-hour mission from Calgary to the South Pole to rescue two sick workers had Calgary-based air crews receiving a Smithsonian award in Washington on Wednesday night.

Last June, two Twin Otter Kenn Borek Air aircraft flew from Calgary to Chile to Rothera, Antarctica. One plane continued on to the U.S. National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott Research station at the South Pole to pick up two people who needed to be taken to hospital.

Pilot Wally Dobchuk said at the time that after a blizzard held the team up in Chile for two days, the weather began to co-operate.

“It all sort of came into place for us,” Dobchuk said. “Once we landed, I think everything went as planned.”

The team had a limited window to get to the research station due to deteriorating weather conditions and flights in and out of the station are usually not planned between February and October because of the extreme cold and darkness in the Antarctic at that time.

Rescued workers happy, alert

The planes used by Kenn Borek Air can operate in extremely low temperatures and land on skis. With no tarmac runway at the South Pole, the aircraft landed in darkness on compacted snow.

Pilot Jim Haffey, who then flew the second plane from Rothera back to Chile, said the two patients were ambulatory for that flight.

“They seemed to be happy and alert, and kind of excited to get going,” he said at the time.

Aviation Week Network honoured the flight crews earlier this month for heroism.

“The time of year when no aircraft has ever made the journey across the Drake Passage known for its vicious winds and storms and then on into the South Pole,” the industry group said in a release.

It was – 60 C without the wind chill at the time.

Margaret Weitekamp of the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum put forward the nomination.

“It is only the third time anyone has flown in and out of the South Pole in the middle of the Antarctic winter,” she told The Homestretch on…

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