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Aussie researcher in need of care evacuated from remote Antarctic base

An Australian researcher has been rescued from a base in Antarctica and is being transported for care by the Australian icebreaking ship RSV Nuyina after developing an urgent medical condition while working at the remote outpost. Photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Division
An Australian researcher has been rescued from a base in Antarctica and is being transported for care by the Australian icebreaking ship RSV Nuyina after developing an urgent medical condition while working at the remote outpost. Photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Division

Sept. 4 (UPI) -- An Australian researcher has been evacuated from a base in Antarctica and is being transported for care after developing an urgent medical condition while working at the remote outpost, officials confirmed Monday.

The unnamed expedition member was picked up from the Casey Research Station in the eastern part of the world's southernmost continent by the Australian icebreaking ship RSV Nuyina.

The 5-year-old icebreaker traveled over 1,800 miles (3,000 kilometers) from Hobart, Tasmania to pick up the researcher, who required urgent medical care.

Officials did not specify the nature of the medical emergency.

The ship "is the main lifeline to Australia's Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations and the central platform of our Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientific research," according to an Australian government website.

The expedtion member was picked up from the Casey Research Station (pictured) in the eastern part of the world’s southernmost continent. Photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Division
The expedtion member was picked up from the Casey Research Station (pictured) in the eastern part of the world’s southernmost continent. Photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Division

Flights into the research station using an ice runway are only possible during Antarctica's summer months because of the extreme winter weather, including gale-force winds.

The ship anchored at the submarine Peterson Bank in the Mawson Sea. From there, it deployed two helicopters to travel the remaining 89.5 miles (144 kilometers) to the Casey Research Station. Officials described it as a "complex operation."

The researcher was picked up by the Australian icebreaking ship RSV Nuyina and will be transported back to Tasmania for medical care. Photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Division
The researcher was picked up by the Australian icebreaking ship RSV Nuyina and will be transported back to Tasmania for medical care. Photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Division

The flights took approximately an hour in each direction.

With the researcher now on board, the Nuyina will travel back to Tasmania, a journey that will run into next week, depending on sea conditions.

The RSV Nuyina "is the main lifeline to Australia’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations and the central platform of our Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientific research,” according to an Australian government website. Photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Division
The RSV Nuyina "is the main lifeline to Australia’s Antarctic and sub-Antarctic research stations and the central platform of our Antarctic and Southern Ocean scientific research,” according to an Australian government website. Photo courtesy of Australian Antarctic Division

"Getting this expeditioner back to Tasmania for the specialist medical care required is our priority," Robb Clifton, the acting general manager of operations and logistics for the Australian Antarctic Division said in a statement Monday.

"The expeditioner will be looked after in the Nuyina's specially equipped and designed medical facility by our polar medicine doctors and Royal Hobart Hospital medical staff."

The research station is one of three bases manned by Australia on a full-time basis. Typical staffing sees it house around 150 expeditioners during the summer months, but only 16 to 20 remain during the winter.

In November 2022, a COVID-19 outbreak caused the National Science Foundation to halt travel to and from the McMurdo station, the largest on the continent.

In March 2022, an Australian rescue team from the AAD helped airlift an American researcher to safety from the same base after they developed a medical problem. In that case, the expeditioner was flown directly to New Zealand, as weather allowed an Airbus A319 to safely land on an ice runway.