No injuries after Antarctica research station support plane crashes

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Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Basler BT-67 owned by Kenn Borek Air during a trip to Antarctica. Note that in this image the aircraft's rear landing gear has been removed for repair purposes.

A Basler BT-67, chartered from Canadian air carrier Kenn Borek Air for the National Science Foundation (NSF), a United States government agency, has crashed whilst attempting take-off during a support assignment in Antarctica. None of the ten people on board were injured, but the modified Douglas DC-3 was substantially damaged in the accident.

The accident occurred on the morning of December 20 local time, about 550 miles from McMurdo Station, a US-run Antarctic base. The aircraft was carrying a crew of four, and six researchers. The flight was part of the Polar Earth Observatory Network project, which is part-funded by the NSF. The project sets up GPS equipment and seismic sensors in various locations across Antarctica, in order to monitor changes in the ice sheets that cover the continent. It is thought that this will aid understanding of global warming.

Although the NSF refused to publicise any details of the crash, one anonymous passenger has come forward about the accident, releasing his account in the form of an online report. According to the passenger, one side of the plane failed to lift off, and the aircraft's wing subsequently dug into the ice.

"My seat came unbolted from the floor with me still strapped into the seatbelt," the passenger said. "When we finally came to a halt, we were all in big pile in the corner of the plane with all of the equipment. We got shaken up pretty bad, but there were no major injuries other than some minor cuts and bruises... The wings, props, and tail all got bent up pretty bad. The landing gear, skis, and hydraulic system all were ripped from the plane and strewn about the ice."

Following the accident, all those on board spent about twenty hours before they were flown back to McMurdo Station on board two Twin Otter aircraft sent from the base on a rescue mission. A full investigation has been launched into the crash by the Department of the Interior's Aircraft Management Division (AMD), who have signed a memorandum of agreement with NSF to conduct any necessary investigations on their behalf. The AMD have subsequently contacted the United States National Transportation Safety Board, who will participate in conjunction with the Transportation Safety Board of Canada.


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