C-17 airdrops new engine to stranded boat

  • Published
  • 446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Six days without power in the middle of a sea of ice came to an end after a C-17 Globemaster flown by Reserve and active-duty Airmen airdropped a new engine and critical supplies to a stranded fishing trawler.

The aircrew airdropped an engine part weighing approximately 150 pounds, measuring 15 feet by 7.5 feet. The airdrop was done approximately 400 feet from the ground at 150 knots, with the cargo landing within feet of the stranded trawler, the Argos Georgia.

Reservists on the mission were pilots Maj. Tom Jensen, 97th Airlift Squadron, and Maj. Mark Brown, 313th Airlift Squadron, and loadmasters Chief Master Sgt. Jim Masura, 446th Operations Group, Senior Master Sgt. Lance Gustafson, 313th AS, and Master Sgt. Scott Dellinger, 728th AS.

The Argos Georgia lost all main power and had been frozen in the ice flow off the Ross Ice Shelf since Christmas Eve (New Zealand time).

"Considering the unforgiving Antarctic climate, we recognized the potential for this to become a life or death situation," said Lt. Gen. Loyd "Chip" Utterback, 13th Air Force and Joint Task Force-Support Force Antarctica commander. "Quick action was needed and versatile airpower was the response."

The call for help came initially to Lt. Col. Jim McGann, 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander.

The New Zealand Rescue Coordination Center contacted the Operation Deep Freeze C-17 mission commander in Christchurch and explained a British fishing trawler, the Argos Georgia, had lost all main power and was frozen in the ice flow off the Ross Ice Shelf. The center wanted to know if the C-17 had the capability to airdrop supplies to the stranded vessel.

"This is what we train for, what we're experts at," said Colonel McGann. "It's be a challenging mission, but this capability is inherent in the C-17 and epitomizes the Global Reach concept," he said. 

Other options to rescue the ship were either no longer available or would be more than 10 days away, leaving those on board - including New Zealanders, South Africans, Spaniards and Russians, to wait for another option. The 23-person trawler crew has been without main power for six days. 

Colonel McGann quickly contacted the U.S. Transportation Command and Air Mobility Command with the request and received approval within 18 hours of the initial call for help.

Argos Georgia Limited's director of operations, Peter Thomson, said, "The U.S. Air Force was fantastic. They offered to drop the package on the deck, but I had visions of it smashing through the bridge. So, they dropped it nearby on the ice with a large buoy and put a 20-pound box of chocolates inside." 

"I've flown more than 50 missions down here, and this mission was one of the most spectacular I've ever flown," Colonel McGann said. 

The aircrew and C-17 are currently staged out of Christchurch, New Zealand supporting Operation Deep Freeze. Operation Deep Freeze is a unique joint and total-force mission that annually supports the National Science Foundation and U.S. Antarctic Program that began in 1955.  (13th Air Force Public Affairs contributed to this report)