Despite the current icy relations between the two nations, China and Australia have collaborated to evacuate a sick Australian from Antarctica. The United States also played a crucial role.
According to various official and media reports, the five-day mission to bring the unwell person – whose details and illness have not been released – from the Australian Davis research station in east Antarctica to Hobart required a carefully co-ordinated mission using ships, helicopters and planes. It covered thousands of kilometres of the icy continent.
When the person became ill at Davis, a Chinese icebreaker happened to be travelling nearby and sent helicopters to take a group of Australians to a site 40km away where a landing strip could be prepared for a ski-equipped aircraft.
Rescue aircraft fly thousands of kilometres
As this was being done, a US aircraft known as a Basler flew 2,200km from McMurdo research station, a US-run Antarctic research station, to Australia’s Wilkins Aerodrome in order to collect an Australian doctor.
The Basler then flew to the newly prepared landing strip near Davis to pick up the patient and return to Wilkins Aerodrome. The journey between the two is a round trip of approximately 2 800km.
An Australian Airbus A319 passenger aircraft then flew the casualty from Wilkins to Hobart in Tasmania.
Complex and challenging medical evacuation
In a statement carried by the Australian Associated Press (AAP), Australian Antarctic Division director, Kim Ellis, said it was one of the most complex and challenging medical evacuations his team had undertaken in recent times.
It involved a “massive level of multinational cooperation” and “reflects the very best of that multinational activity that happens in Antarctica”, Ellis told AAP.
Australia does not have ski-equipped intracontinental aircraft in Antarctica due to concerns over introducing Covid-19 to the continent.
Gratitude expressed to China and United States
“We’re extraordinarily grateful to the Chinese and US Antarctic Programs for the fact that they were able to change their operating models and come to our assistance,” said Ellis in a statement released by the Australian Antarctic Division.
“I’m particularly grateful to the Australian expeditioners who displayed courage and resilience and skill, deploying to remote airfields and ski-ways and working in tough conditions.
“The synergy of operating capabilities, incredible expertise and a favourable weather window enabled us to bring the patient back from Antarctica to Australia within a week,” he stated.