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Rare mid-winter mission to Antarctica
A C-17 from McChord Field, Wash., sits on the ice in Antarctica June 30 awaiting a patient for a medical evacuation. A crew mix of 446th Airlift Wing Reservists and 62nd Airlift Wing active-duty Airmen flew this mission using night-vision googles. (Courtesy photo)
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Rare mid-winter mission to Antarctica necessary for medical evacuation

Posted 7/15/2011   Updated 7/15/2011 Email story   Print story


by Sandra Pishner
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

7/15/2011 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- It was a routine flight, unless you consider the extreme dark and extreme cold (-40 degrees Fahrenheit).

Using night vision equipment and navigating around volcanic ash hazards, a Reservist with the 728th Airlift Squadron here piloted a C-17 Globemaster III on a mission June 30 to evacuate an ailing government contractor from McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

Lt. Col. Montgomery McDaniel, the pilot, was joined on the mission by loadmasters Chief Master Sgt. Jim Masura, 446th Operations Group, and Master Sgt. Scott Dellinger, 728th AS, and other aircrew from McChord Field.

An aeromedical evacuation and Critical Care Air Transport Team assigned to the U.S. Air Force-led Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica, was onboard to care for the contractor as he was flown to a hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand for care.

"A request for medical assistance was channeled to the joint task force and we quickly coordinated with U.S. Transportation Command and U.S. Pacific Command to provide dedicated airlift and medical personnel to the contractor operating at McMurdo Station," said Lt. Col Edward Vaughan, JTF-SFA Joint Operations and Plans chief.

Leaving McChord Field at 1:30 a.m., June 28, the C-17 flight crew of Reserve and active-duty Airmen stopped at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to pick up the medical teams, as well as the Pacific Command staff. From there, it was a 10 hour flight to Christchurch.

The long trip began with careful planning at McChord Field, and continued  at Christchurch.

"In Christchurch, I helped coordinate with the 'ice' to ensure they were ready for the cargo that we were delivering," said Masura, "and that everybody was ready for the upload of their cargo, a passenger, and, most importantly, the patient."

Considering everything from earthquakes to the hazard of volcanic ash and severe weather in Antarctica -- the combination of elements faced makes these types of missions a little more challenging.

"Flying into Antarctica is always a challenge, though we have the training and experience to make operations such as this one routine," said Lt. Col. Robert Wellington, 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander, permanently stationed with the 62nd Airlift Wing, McChord Field.

Experience is what McDaniel has, as is often the case with Reservists.

"I have been involved with the Deep Freeze mission as both an instructor pilot and director of operations since the 2005 season," McDaniel said. "This mission was my 23rd to the continent."

It was also his fourth mission to Antarctica involving night vision goggles.

"Use of night vision goggles is a core competency of C-17 crew members and by developing and refining procedures over the last four-years, we were able to successfully complete our mission in a dark, arctic environment," said Wellington.

"The concept of a mid-winter, NVG flight was introduced five years ago with a medical evacuation being the most likely requirement," said McDaniel. "Since then numerous people from the 62nd and 446th have put forth a lot of effort and training to get to this point.

"Without diminishing the excitement or achievement that this professional group just accomplished -- the flight itself was nearly routine, just very dark and very cold," McDaniel said.

While McDaniel might consider the mission routine, it was also a mission of opportunity.
"It was an opportunity to deliver fresh fruit, vegetables and mail to those spending their time on the ice," said Masura.

According to Colonel Wellington, the team couldn't have accomplished the mission without the tremendous support of McChord Field active duty and Reserve operations and maintenance units, Air Mobility Command and the Tanker Airlift Control Center, out of Scott AFB, Ill., and the Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam based Pacific Air Forces, 13th Air Force, and Joint Task Force-Support Forces Antarctica. (Capt. David Herndon, Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs, contributed to this report).

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