Twin Otters to the rescue

For the third time in history, a DHC-6 Twin Otter operated by Canada’s Kenn Borek Air has been dispatched to the United States Antarctic Program’s (USAP) Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station to perform a medical evacuation flight in total darkness during the dead of winter.

The arrival of the DHC-6 Twin Otter completes a nine-day, global evacuation operation that National Science Foundation coordinated to prioritize the health and safety of station and rescue personnel. Robert Schwarz Photo
The arrival of the DHC-6 Twin Otter completes a nine-day, global evacuation operation that National Science Foundation coordinated to prioritize the health and safety of station and rescue personnel. Robert Schwarz Photo
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The Calgary-based Twin Otter flew in to evacuate two of the station’s personnel at a time when no other aircraft could reach the most remote place on earth. Although it is staffed year-round, the South Pole station–and indeed all of Antarctica–is typically closed to flights between March and October due to complete darkness and temperatures dipping as low as -80C.

On June 22, the Kenn Borek crew arrived at the South Pole after departing from British Antarctic Survey’s Rothera Station on the Antarctic Peninsula. The two patients were then transported back to Rothera, where they boarded a second Kenn Borek Twin Otter that ferried them to Punta Arenas, Chile. All together, the round trip from Rothera to the South Pole and back is about 3,000 miles.

Antarctica research

Antarctica is the size of United States and Europe combined (or one and a half times the size of Canada) and ranks as the coldest, driest, windiest, highest, emptiest, most remote and darkest continent on Earth.

During the astral summer research season from Nov. 15 to Feb. 15, about 5,000 scientists and logistics specialists from more than 30 countries work out of 80 remote Antarctic research bases.

Scientists arrive by sea and aboard non-stop flights from Australia, New Zealand, South America and Africa on aircraft capable of land on skiways, gravel runways, sea ice runways and remote blue ice glacier runways in the interior of the continent.

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Canadian-designed de Havilland DHC-2 Beaver and DHC-3 Otter utility aircraft were first introduced to Antarctica in the mid-1950s and eventually utilized by several governments to support polar research.

The Twin Otter was the natural successor to these single-engine bushplanes in the late 1960s, powered by a pair of dependable Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6A turboprop engines. In the summer of 1969-1970, the British Antarctic Survey and the Argentinean Air Force were the first operators of the Twin Otter on the remote continent.

The National Science Foundation Office of Polar Programs (NSF-OPP) operates the U.S. Antarctic Program (USAP), which coordinates almost all American scientific activity on the continent.

Kenn Borek Air was founded in 1970 and won its first Antarctic Twin Otter contract with the USAP in 1985. The Calgary company’s red and white Twin Otters have been a regular fixture of Antarctic research and wilderness adventure for the past 30 years.

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