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SA team part of dramatic Antarctic rescue

South Africa

South Africa's Antarctic expedition team has been involved in a dramatic international rescue effort to save a badly injured Norwegian, who was due to be flown for emergency medical treatment in New Zealand.

The injured man is a crew member of the Norwegian polar supply ship, the Lance.

He was injured while driving a snowmobile during unloading operations from the ship at a bay alongside the Antarctic ice-shelf near the Norwegian Troll base, several degrees of latitude east of the South African sector of Antarctica.

Richard Skinner, acting director of the Antarctic and Islands directorate of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, said he had been woken at 4am on Friday and told of the accident.

"What he (the crewman) was doing at the time I don't know, but he apparently had head and internal injuries and the Norwegians called us for a medical evacuation.

We sent our helicopter, which then brought him back to Sanae (South Africa's Antarctic base)."

There were two doctors at Sanae, because each year's over-wintering team from South Africa includes a doctor, and the change-over between the 2000 and 2001 teams is still under way.

"The two doctors treated him and tried to stabilise him, but they also recommended an evacuation as soon as possible," Skinner said.

"Apparently they were concerned about possible neurological damage."

The accident had happened between midnight and 2am, and it had taken an hour to fly the patient to Sanae IV, South Africa's new base about 200km inland. Because the sun stays above the horizon in summer in Antarctica, it is light for 24 hours a day and work

continues around the clock.

Skinner said a German Dornier aircraft flying geomagnetic surveys and temporarily operating from South Africa's "E-base" - an emergency base close to the now closed Sanae III base near the coast - had been sent to Sanae IV to pick up the Norwegian.

The aircraft had arrived at Sanae about noon, loaded the patient and headed for Britain's Halley Bay base further west. "From there, a British Twin Otter aircraft was going to fly him to the (American) base at the South Pole, which would have taken about six hours," Skinner said. "Then he was going to wait for a flight from the Pole to New Zealand."

Early on Monday, Skinner said he had not yet heard whether the rescue had been completed.

The head of Norway's polar institute, Olav Orheim, was in Cape Town a fortnight ago as part of an international delegation to investigate using the city as the chief supply post for several countries' polar bases on this side of Antarctica, and to check whether regular flights by transport aircraft between South Africa and Antarctica were feasible.

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