RNZAF called to Antarctica to help US Air Force

5:08PM Thursday Oct 30, 2008

An air force Orion was called to Antarctica yesterday afternoon to help rescue a US Air Force C-17 Globemaster stranded since Sunday with mechanical problems.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K Orion was due to return to New Zealand tonight, having flown spares and three US Air Force maintenance engineers to Antarctica. The US aircraft had a faulty fuel control unit and was unable to fly.

"While it is early in the season for the air force to be flying to the ice and by its very nature there is some risk involved with Antarctic operations, our crews are well trained and have three years of P-3K ice experience to call upon," Air Commodore Gavin Howse said.

The RNZAF's fleet of primary Antarctic support aircraft, the C-130 Hercules, were unavailable as they were on operations in East Timor and being upgraded in Canada. The P-3K Orion has been involved regular flights to Antarctica since early 2006, usually as part of routine patrols of the Southern Ocean.

The RNZAF was called on under an emergency support agreement between the US National Science Foundation and Antarctica New Zealand, as the US Air Force C-130 Hercules crews were still based in the US.

The US aircraft had returned to Christchurch and was already beginning scheduled flights back to the ice.

The first RNZAF C-130 Hercules flights for Antarctica New Zealand begin in early January.