Team McChord deploys for another medical evacuation
By Staff Sgt. Frances Kriss, 62nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
/ Published May 16, 2013
McChord Field, Wash. -- For the second time in less than a month, Airmen from the 62nd and 446th Airlift Wings flew to Antarctica and completed an aeromedical evacuation, May 10.
At the request of the National Science Foundation, the JBLM crew, alongside an aeromedical evacuation team from Pacific Air Forces, safely evacuated an ailing contractor from McMurdo Station, Antarctica, and transported the patient to a hospital in Christchurch, New Zealand.
"We had the patient safe and evacuated from McMurdo Station to Christchurch within 66 hours of us leaving McChord Field," said Lt. Col. Scott Ryan, 97th Airlift Squadron instructor pilot, who was one of the Reserve pilots on the rescue crew.
While they were at McMurdo, the crew also delivered about 40,000 pounds of cargo, including fresh produce, and six passengers.
"It's humbling to be part of a crew that can go down to Antarctica and accomplish an incredible task," said Staff Sgt. Gary Woo, 62nd AW executive NCO in charge and 4th Airlift Squadron loadmaster. "Being able to help someone in need is something pretty unique and special.
"It's definitely rare for them to see fresh food, so I'm hoping our delivery was a morale boost," added Woo, a Nashville, Tenn., native.
This is the third rescue mission the 62nd and 446th AW crews have completed in two years --one in June 2011 and two this year.
"Even though Team McChord crews have flown a few of these rescue missions, it is never routine," Ryan said. "Constant situational awareness and our years of training and experience allow us to fly short-notice missions like these."
Another unique aspect of the mission was that it was conducted in complete darkness, which required pilots to use night-vision goggles. Winter in Antarctica is from March to September and during winter, the continent is tilted away from the sun, causing it to be dark.
"It was minus 32 degrees Celsius and completely dark when we got to McMurdo," said Ryan, a Seattle native.
The 62nd and 446th AWs are the only U.S. Air Force C-17 wings uniquely equipped to conduct missions to Antarctica. Annually, they support Operation Deep Freeze, which provides logistical support to the U.S. Antarctic Program. It is one of the most difficult U.S. military peacetime missions due to the rapid weather changes, relentless wind speeds and inhospitable conditions. ODF is usually only conducted each year from August to March.
"All aircrews that are tasked for Deep Freeze missions have to receive special training and currencies before they are qualified to fly," said Ryan. "I think getting the (night-vision- goggle) training in addition to the Antarctic-specific training are crucial."
The NSF has a presidential mandate to manage the U.S. Antarctic Program, through which it coordinates all U.S. scientific research on the southernmost continent and aboard vessels in the Southern Ocean.
(Master Sgt. Jake Chappelle, 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs, contributed to this article.)