Stroke Victim Not Evacuated from South Pole Research Station: Your Help Needed

A friend of mine send me this:

This was my letter to Raytheon and the National Science Foundation

To whom it may concern.

I am writing on behalf of my mother, Renee-Nicole Douceur. I am trying to figure out by what standard you consider a stroke a non-emergency. Almost a month ago I received a phone call from my mother informing me that she had a stroke the week before. As I am sure you can imagine, my heart dropped and my emo…tions kicked in because I was unable to be by my mother’s side during this scary time. I know that she has put in almost 3 years of dedication for Raytheon and National Science Foundation in Antarctica because she loves what she does, even though it meant being away from her family. I also understand how difficult it is to fly in Antarctica during the winter months so emergency evacuations should be kept at a minimum, but are still possible for emergencies.

Again, I am trying to figure out how a stroke victim, who is being told by doctors on site as well as in the US to be evacuated as soon as possible, is not considered an emergency. I am sure that if it were your family member, you would have great concern and frustration as I have at the total lack of humanity being shown by both your companies for a woman who put her service and faith into you. Think about it, if your mother, or daughter, or son or father were to have a stroke, and were refused the best medical care for over a month (and by the time she would get it, if she has to wait for your company to deem her important enough to fly home, it would be almost 2 months) how would you feel? Angry? Disgusted? Wouldn’t you think that the company that your family member works for would place any concern on human life? How would you feel if by the time your family member returns home at the big corporation’s say so months later, your family member had
permenant damage that could have been avoided if they were treated like any other normal human being would have been treated? Strokes are harmful, the brain is a delicate organ yet it controls who we are. Even the smallest of injuries are life changers. But as long as it doesn’t happen to you or your families, it’s ok right?

Well this is not ok with me. My mother is a fighter and I hope that by the time she leaves Antarctica she will still be strong enough to overcome this stroke. I am getting married in a few months and if my mother is in any way debilitated because Raytheon and the National Science Foundation dragged their feet because they obviously don’t care about human life as long as money is involved I will be utterly crushed. Money is not worth human life. It’s not. Even in this economy without your family, without your health, without humanity, we have nothing. When you go home to your families tonight, please pray that they never work for a company who treats their life as meaningless. My mother means something to me. If you refuse to help then I pray to God your family will always be healthy because no one should ever have to deal with the total lack of empathy your companies show. Please look inside yourself and fly her out ASAP to give her the best possible
chance of full recovery with no lasting effects.

The White House, my Senator and newstation WMUR will be hearing from me. I’m sure they would be interested in hearing a story about how yet again big business kills people and doesn’t care.

Sydney Raines

This is a web site related to Renee’s stroke and efforts to get her out.


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54 thoughts on “Stroke Victim Not Evacuated from South Pole Research Station: Your Help Needed

  1. Which station? Many stations are *totally* inaccessible at the moment and will only be accessible by air within the next few weeks if lucky – if not so lucky even aircraft can’t get in until around the end of October. Complete isolation and medical emergencies are risks of going to many of the Antarctic stations. A few years ago I remember someone having to deal with breast cancer and wait weeks for evacuation. There are enough people in the numerous stations these days that medical emergencies during the period of isolation are fairly regular occurrences. The health of the people on the stations is a very high priority, but conditions are incredibly harsh in the Antarctic, especially during the winter and much of spring.

  2. Lamentable situation, but jumping to conclusions isn’t a good idea. As MadScientist noted, evac may not even be an option at the moment… and the people working at the stations know the conditions the face.

    Another important question: What is the risk of evac? Not just to the patient, but to the pilots and medics. The chances of being killed trying to get out (and killing courageous others in the process) may well outweigh the risks of permanant damage from not getting the best treatments in a timely manner.

  3. I really feel for the writer, but if the stroke took place a month ago, I doubt evacuation now would make any difference. Do any physicians here (I’m a biologist, not a doctor) know differently?

  4. Note to self: Don’t accept a job that positions me so far away from immediate invasive medical care… I hope the writer’s mom has few lingering effects from the stroke, but anyone that lives that far away from a hospital takes their own life in their hands… The decision to launch a medical evac is not easy though I’ll take her at face value that the company should have tried harder…but that’s part and parcel of that existence. That very solitude is usually a perk for those that choose to perform work in those environments. When people become too ill to stay or die in places like that,others fill the void because of the challenge of surviving. Bragging rights for living there belong to the survivors…

  5. I’m pretty sure we are talking about the south pole station and I’m pretty sure we are not jumping to conclusions. I was contacted by a good friend who was the NSF safety officer at that station who seems to feel that they could evac but won’t. It is an argument about risk levels, not the case that it can’t be done but people are insisting it be done.

    I believe the physician at the research site is asking for the evacuation.

  6. Just an indication of the difficulty: there is only one unit in the US military equipped to fly to the South Pole – the NYS Air National Guard 109th. The earliest they have flown there was Oct 16, in 1999, to evacuate the station physician Jerrie Nielsen, who had breast cancer, and to bring in another doctor to replace her. The temperature must be above -50C or the plane’s hydraulics can freeze. Generally they don’t go until the end of October.

    I found Nielsen’s book a interesting read about the extreme difficulties of the South Pole.

  7. Um, Greg, you do realize that the “risk levels,” in this case, most certainly refers to risks of a plane not making it, right? And by not making it I mean mechanical failure leading to a loss of the aircraft and, likely, all aboard?

  8. Gilby, I understand. I’ve been asked to get this word out from my trusted friend who was the safety officer for this research station. She knows this station and what is involved in getting in and out and she seems to be of the opinion that there are alternatives. Sorry, but right now I’m thinking she knows some things about this.

    Perhaps she’ll stop by and comment. She’s on some crazy time zone right now, I think, but I’ll ask her.

  9. As a stroke survivor I can tell you that doctors can do nothing during the actual stroke except give tPA if indicated or surgery to stop bleeding. Once stabilized doctors do nothing, they just hand it off to therapists with the prescription of ET, evaluate and treat. Nothing will speed up the recovery. Telestroke can be used to get appropriate therapy. You could have the best neurologists in the world standing around a strokee in the ER room and they would be helpless. At this point if she is stable there is no point in risking everything

  10. Dean, r, I’m removing your spammish link to your commercial stroke-related web site. Folks, what “dean r” says bout both immediate response to a stroke and long term is incorrect. I’m only leaving this misleading and inaccurate comment up to allow people to see that there is in fact stroke misinformation and woo out there.

    Here’s some basic info from Mayo:

    and here’s the Skeptical Search Engine findings:

  11. I am a physician, and have treated strokes. Simple fact is, treatment needs to start within hours to be of benefit. They could not possibly have gotten her out of there in time to do anything useful. Without a CT scanner, they couldn’t have determined if it was a hemorrhagic stroke or not. So even if there was tPA there, they could not have treated her. If she is still communicating, it obviously isn’t that serious of a stroke (compared to what can happen). The only thing to do is physical therapy. I agree with the prior post that much of that can be done with instruction over a computer.

  12. Ben you may be right, but what is your take on the fact that you seem to be disagreeing with a physician who is on the scene? Is it possible that there are circumstances there that someone who is not there (like you and all of us) don’t know about that could lend some urgency?

  13. Also, Ben, to be fair to my readers I need to mention that your IP address shows five separate named commenter identities for you including some that give some additional identity info none of which clearly indicate a medical link of any kind (though you once were “dr” somebody). Since you being a physician would lend (rightfully so) real credibility to your comment, you should somehow convince me that you really are.

    I quickly add: More than one identity on an IP is not always the same person using multiple identities. It is very easy for an IP address to get used multiple times. It just does not happen all that often. But it does happen.

    So, Ben, feel free to reach out and convince me that you’re a Doc and I’ll be free to let people know that.

    I’m not trying to make an accusation here. But surely you understand. You would be wearing a badge to work in a hosptical, for instance. I know this is only a blog, but ….

  14. The decision to fly remains with the meteorologists and pilots – if they say no go that’s that. Conditions there are simply crazy – you land on ice (there’s no heated paved runway), you can easily get whiteout conditions, and temperatures habitually fall below -56C which not only means your hydraulic fluids resemble candle wax, but your fuel goes waxy and the pumps can’t push that fuel into the turboprops’ engines. The operations are already far more dangerous than a typical flight at the best of times and the crews really want to get aircraft in as early as possible. We’re talking about people accustomed to taking huge risks and who genuinely want to get into the base as soon as possible, so I find it very hard to believe that the folks in charge are negligent in this case. The US Antarctic program flies out of Christchurch to McMurdo station and on to the Scott-Amundsen (South Pole) base. It is not unusual for the incoming staff to spend weeks in Christchurch getting up really early, sitting on the airplane for hours, and going back to the hotel. It is also common to get airborne and on approach to McMurdo or Scott-Amundsen you’re informed that you can’t land.

  15. Mad, what you say makes sense but again, I think it is not actually true. There are also company policies (in this case apparently Raytheon) that apply. Which is apparently the problem.

  16. Is there somewhere where we can read about the company policies? It’s pretty damned stupid to tell pilots not to fly as a matter of policy, but it surely happens. There was even a case years ago of some pilots (not on a US base) losing their jobs for doing the right thing and getting people back to base alive contrary to ‘policy’.

  17. I am not an MD, and don’t know that much about strokes, but from what I have read, it isn’t that clearcut what could be done about a stroke a month later. There are two main types of damage. The first damage is due to the acute infarct, where brain tissue doesn’t get enough blood flow and so it dies. Minimizing brain death is why immediate treatment is necessary and where minutes and even seconds can count. But once cells are dead, there is nothing that can be done to revive them.

    After a few days, what starts to happen is that the brain starts â??pruningâ? itself. That is when the next major source of damage happens. The brain is active tissue, what that means is that it can activate itself. Some amount of self-activation is necessary, that is what is needed to maintain a train of thought, where one thought activates another thought and another. Too much self-activation is what causes a seizure. After a stroke, the damage that is apparent after a couple of days is not that critical. What is important is the amount of damage that is apparent after a few weeks, or longer. The â??pruningâ? that the brain does takes some time to happen.

    How that happens is that the brain has nerves that are both excitatory and inhibitory. There needs to be the right balance, not too much excitatory or the threshold for a seizure to happen is too low, not too much inhibitory or there is too much brain fog. How this happens is not well understood, but the major mechanism is via excitotoxicity. What happens is that the brain does induce a mini-seizure, and the cells in the vicinity of this mini-seizure get all excited, use up their ATP, and the â??weakâ? cells die and go through apoptosis. Cells usually go into excitotoxicity death mode when they stop getting signals from upstream cells. If brain cells are not connected to anything, they are pretty much useless, so it is better to not have them around. If brain cells are not connected to enough inhibitory cells, then it can also be better to not have them around because they might go excitotoxic during an emergency.

    I think (but this is a hypothesis), that stress during the period of brain pruning following a stroke will increase the amount of brain tissue that is pruned. I think that all types of stress would be additive, psychosocial stress, hypoxic stress, metabolic stress. I would worry that the hypoxia of flight might increase brain loss. Giving O2 might also because high oxygen lowers nitric oxide levels. The symptoms of headache is a (fairly nonspecific) sign of brain ischemia and/or brain ischemic preconditioning. That is not a good sign, but it is a sign that hypoxia from flight might be bad.

    I would not think that the treating physician at the research station would have the expertise of stroke treatment experts elsewhere. I would expect the local physician to feel out of his/her level of expertise and wanting a professional with the appropriate level of expertise to take over.

    I think the most important thing to do first is to find the medical facility that she would be taken to, and it wouldn’t be one in the US. A very long flight is not a good idea for someone who just had a stroke. There is the hypoxia issue, and also the thrombosis issue. Once you figure out what facility, find a specific stroke specialist, get into communication with that specialist and find out what they say.

    McMurdo station is ~1400 km from the South Pole. Any flight to the South Pole would go through McMurdo Station and would have to use a snow field there. New Zealand is the nearest developed place and is another ~4000 km. I think that contacting stroke specialists in NZ and see what they say is the best approach.

    The only airfield at the South Pole is a snow field that only ski equipped planes can use. If the runway is not smooth, due to snow drifts, then it would have to be smoothed. Typically they use the LC-130, and for open field takeoff they add four JATO rockets.

    It is not clear if JATO rockets could be added at the South Pole, the engines need to be kept running to keep fuel and hydraulics from freezing. If the runways are not smooth enough, then it really can’t be done. It might be too cold at McMurdo to refuel there.

    I don’t think that it is Raytheon’s call. It is only the US military that has the capability to do this, and they don’t hire it out.

  18. There are medical reasons to move her, and it is possible to move her, and it is primarily Raytheon’s call. This information is available in the link and confirmed by direct contact (by me) of a person who very much knows the situation.

    I hope that those of you who are arm-chairing this and thus not signing the petition realize that your poor understanding of the situation is rather embarassingly boneheaded. If you don’t like to sign petitions, fine, don’t sign it. But if you think you actually understand the situation better than those involved and that you are making some kind of holier than thou super skeptical decision than those on the ground could possibly make, well, the words I want to use to describe what you are doing are not quite coming to me now. Well, they are, but this blog is rated PG-13.

    I provide a link above for more information. Here it is again:

    The medical staff on site is concerned about the woman’s condition and want her at a hospital with an MRI. Are you sure you to second guess that? No? Than sign the damn petition.

    There have been relief supplies brought into the research station once or twice since her stroke. Didn’t realize that? Oh, well, then sign the damn petition!

    Come on people! Jeezh.

    “Q: Itâ??s Winter there! Donâ??t you know they canâ??t fly?

    A: A flight came in to drop medical supplies a few weeks ago, and the folks weâ??ve talked to in the South Pole said the winter was relatively mild, currently the weather is bright and warm. Neither Raytheon nor the National Science Foundation have a plane pre-positioned for flight, meaning make it ready to go when the weather breaks. We are dubious the first opportunity the weather allows passage will magically be the regularly scheduled flight towards the end of October, thus requiring no exatra action on their part.”

    “Q: Does Renee know about this site? She might lose her job.

    A: Renee and her lawyers were stonedwalled by Raytheonâ??s lawyers for a month by saying it was up to the NSF, and the NSF brushed off Senator Jeanne Sheehan by saying it was up to Raytheon. After this, Reneeâ??s lawyer told her to take it public, Renee asked Sydney to help, and Sydney asked me.”

    “Q: Itâ??s been a month since the stroke, isnâ??t Renee stable since sheâ??s past the 72 hour window?

    A: Sydney says Reneeâ?? stability is only being monitored by what the doctors can guess through observation. There are no MRIs or CAT Scans at the Station to tell the doctors what is going on inside Reneeâ??s brain, or if there is a dangerous amount of swelling. She also cannot receive the proper medications for stroke patients to prevent further issues because they donâ??t have it stocked. The doctor noted on Sept. 3 that the healing is slower at the South Pole and that Renee would benefit from assessment and rehabilitation therapy as soon as possible. She also admitted that she didnâ??t know how to rehabilitate a stroke victim. Renee has partial vision loss to both eyes, and she also has brain fatigue. She is able to read and write emails, but at a much slower pace than everyone else, most her emails are one sentence long. Getting updates on her medical condition is mostly limited to how sheâ??s feeling during the satellite window.

    Most patients need other people to advocate for them when they have a serious illness, and because of her location her family is unable to advocate for her, or receive current updates on her condition. It is unacceptable to call to claim this isnâ??t an emergency.”

    Q: She signed a waiver and knows itâ??s dangerous, isnâ??t that why she gets paid the big bucks?

    A: Renee is and was aware of Raytheonâ??s Standard Operating Procedure regarding Medevacs but but she feels Raytheon isnâ??t following their own guidelines. She clearly qualifies for emergency evacuation, her doctor recommends her evacuation, and the current weather would allow for her evacuation. She understood proper medical assistance may be unavailable, but in this case itâ??s available but seemingly arbitrarily denied. Also, for the record, she doesnâ??t make more than she would managing a site stateside.

  19. I recall an evacuation from the south pole (in the winter) a few years ago that required flying a pair of special De Havilland Canada Twin Otters all the way from Calgary. It took them a couple of days to get there. At the time these were the only aircraft capable of flying to the south pole in the winter. Of course it is spring there now.

  20. “…The health of the people on the stations is a very high priority…” from comment 1.

    please convince me of this. In fact you cannot, as i have had the experience of wintering over for Raytheon.

    There ARE risks involved. In the US, you have a law enforced by Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that states a employer’s DUTY to protect it’s employees from recognizable hazards. While it is true that South Pole is an American base, and Raytheon an American company, essentially OSHA will tell you that Antarctica is not their jurisdiction. Mind you that EVERY American there pays their US taxes (despite if they qualify for the tax benefit where being outside of the country for 330 days in a year the first $80,000 is tax free). Taxation without representation.

    Winter is a recognizable hazard, but so is working for a company that fumbles over medical care. Tough way for this lady to find out.

    Being largely outside of regulated control, the companies contracting for NSF operate accordingly.

    Medical emergencies being almost commonplace? (comment 1) If referring to winter as “isolation” the event that comes to mind on this scale in the recent past was at the Vostok Station (Russian), where either 1 or 2 men died in a fire. otherwise, i don’t understand what is meant by enough people around making it a fairly common occurance. There ARE medivacs. They happen when a person cannot get the care they require with the limited selection of available tools. huh.

    Meteorologists do not decide on Go-No Go. They read a chart. Pilots are not making the decision in this case either.

    runways and planes: this is a well executed part of the whole operation, and if they wanted to, it can be done. All of it. Met guys watch for a window of warm air, which does happen. The airplanes have to be ready, the runway, the plan. But it isn’t. The lead time is 45 days for the planes to get ready. But that means you have to have a plan, and from what i gather they do not.

    Yup, the lc-130s quit flying at -54C, and the Twin Otter along with a DC-3 come in at just a hair colder. These are the search and rescue planes, and do indeed come from Canada. They come down via South America and come from the opposite direction of McMurdo and the lc-130s. McMurdo too cold to refuel? wierd.

    Good luck finding company policies. These they guard in case of situations like this where they may have some trouble with legal justification, or any justification for that matter.

    NO one is making the big bucks in Antarctica. You do it for the experience.

  21. Greg, you might want to relook at my blog, there is nothing commercial or spamish about. There is no woo on it except for the labeled quackery posts. And the part about initial doctor response is accurate, just ask any neurologist for their candid opinion. daedalus2u has some good comments about the neuronal cascade of death and Excitotoxicity. Don’t blast something you seem to know nothing about. I wonder if the doctors involved are really wanting evacuation because of their inability to prevent a second stroke, rather than not being able to help her recovery. This is obviouly an area that needs some facts so don’t trash people that know more than you do.
    When a blood vessel becomes blocked in the brain by an emboli or thrombi, oxygen and nutrition are not allowed to get to neurons downstream of the blockage. Neurons starved of oxygen and glucose release excessive amounts of glutamate from their synaptic bulbs. The glutamate then binds to NMDA (N-methyl-D-aspartate) receptors and triggers excessive influx of sodium and calcium ions, along with water, into the postsynaptic neurons. The neurons swell and neuronal toxicity and apoptotic death are initiated.
    Protecting the Brain from a Glutamate Storm

    There is nothing yet that can stop this cascade, only testing has been done in rats and mice. If you want to know about possibilities read my posts on hyperacute, I document all my posts.
    You don’t have to post this, I’ll hope you never have to recover from a stroke because if I don’t succeed in changing research and stroke rehab now, in 20 years there will still be no decent knowledge of how to recover. You seem to believe in the medical establishment, read my blog and you will find out why that is not a good idea. And since my blog seems to be the most popular stroke one on the internet and gets various thank yous, I’ll trust their responses than your uninformed opinion. Good luck on the petition

  22. I wonder if the doctors involved are really wanting evacuation because of their inability to prevent a second stroke, rather than not being able to help her recovery. This is obviouly an area that needs some facts so don’t trash people that know more than you do.

    So, if I am reading you correctly, you are willing to second guess a medical evaluation of a patient that you have no direct knowledge of in a situation you have no direct knowledge of and encourage people to NOT help convince a large corporation to do the right thing, but at the same time you acknowledge that there is a distinct medical possibility that a medical evacuation would be a good idea. Nice. Hope she gets home, recovers, and you two get to meet. You can have a conversation face to face with the person you wanted to harm.

    Regarding your version of strokes vs. the general medical profession, I’m going with the latter.

    Are you sure you want me to approve this comment of yours? You are voting AGAINST getting medical attention to someone in a remote place, contra the advice of the medical team on the ground, and apparently without reading all of the available information, because you feel this will promote your odd idea of how strokes work.

    This could backfire.

  23. There may be options? Sure. There may be.

    Again, though, this doesn’t appear to simply be a case of bean counters overruling doctors, which the web page listed seems to be painting it as. Nor is this a matter of the flight just being impossible. It’s clear it’s possible to fly her out. It’s also clear that there is a risk.

    Elle, what would, to you, be unimportant enough a medial issue to not fly in, considering the risk of cold weather flight? I take it you, and Greg, think that this medical issue is important enough to take the risk. Do you think that there are medical issues severe enough where the risk would be taken by those involved in making decisions here?

  24. Again, though, this doesn’t appear to simply be a case of bean counters overruling doctors, which the web page listed seems to be painting it as

    What, exactly, is the information you have to base that statement on.

    Elle, what would, to you, be unimportant enough a medial issue to not fly in,

    I’m sure Elle will answer if she has a chance, but my recollection is that at least one person lost some body parts while there on her shift. You may not like her answer!

    I take it you, and Greg, think that this medical issue is important enough to take the risk.

    My understanding is that it is, and that the decision to not go is part of a larger pattern that I’m trying very strongly to hint at without people getting fired. But apparently there is a strong will on the part of many people who have no horse in this race that the woman with the stroke NOT be evacuated.

    I expected concern and indifference. I did not expect this.

    Do you think that there are medical issues severe enough where the risk would be taken by those involved in making decisions here?

    That sentence can not be parsed. Please rephrase!

  25. “… isnâ??t that why she gets paid the big bucks?” Gee, folks in Antarctica get paid Big Bucks? Damn, all those people I knew working for various countries in Antarctica for the past 20 years kept it all secret from me!

  26. Oh, and for my other readers… Gilby has never posted here before, which may mean nothing. But I have been discretely provided information indicating that Ray T Aeon is patrolling the intertubes for chatter about this issue and …. dealing with it. Just sayin’

  27. I do not doubt for a second that Raytheon may be doing that sort of thing. They are a defense contractor after all.

    However, there are some questions sticking out like a sore thumb here: how much does sending a plane down there cost, and how many people, of which there are many, right there in America that are getting inadequate stroke treatment, could be helped with it? And why should she get such special treatment? Because she’s like you, right? Yu huh.

    Secondly, aside from the obvious fact that progressive taxation is the moral thing to do generally, why should Raytheon (or esp the NSF) pay for this instead of the family? I noticed the author did not at any point offer to pay for even a fraction of the costs here. Despite this stuff about how life cannot be traded for money, the author seems to hang on to theirs pretty tightly, preferring someone else to pay for this.

  28. Wow…just wow…
    Are you brain dead?
    This is a serious question, please answer.
    Greg may have a pony is this race (I.e. personal acquaintanceship to the stroke victim etc), but does that invalidate his point that what is happening is wrong? No.
    About the other stroke victims… is a major corporation and/or government agency actively preventing them from getting help? No? I could see why you think that situation is identical to this one then. (That last sentence was sarcasm. I’m pointing this out since you seem unlikely to be able to figure that out on your own).
    Also…you think it is someone’s responsibility to pay for their own rescue when SHIT LIKE THIS IS SUPPOSED TO BE PLANNED FOR BY THESE ORGANIZATIONS. As previously mentioned by someone else, evacuations occur occasionally. This one ISN’T occurring because two organizations more or less don’t feel like it.

    It’d be nice if you made one valid point, but more or less all you said was “Fuck this woman. No one should care about this.”

    In General:
    I think if the NSF really feels they have legal standing in declaring her evacuation is Rayt heon’s job then they should evac. her and bill the company.

  29. Bob, those are good questions about why anyone should pay for this.

    Now, please show me the links to the comments you’ve made asking the same questions regarding, oh, say the mountain search and rescue efforts to find that guy and his two dead sons who crashed in the rockies last winter. And they were presumed dead, so why bother at all? Or that guy who founded cnet who of his own volition climbed some dangerous and difficult mountain three years ago and got lost.

    In those cases the people who were being rescued were gazillionaires, so they or their next of kin (as it turns out) could have probably paid for it. And I’m thinking you were there to make sure that was brought up, right?

    But yes, they are interesting questions. Feel free to take a stab at the answer. Ignore possibilities that since there are always things to fly down and back that this would never be a flight just for her, ignore that this is a multi zillion dollar project and one plane in or out every few years becuase of medical issues is what should be expected (but never seems to happen). Suggest that an air evac is a good idea, or suggest that we write this woman off. Either way, I’ll make sure she gets the message. But she won’t be able to read it right away becaus given the effects of the stroke on her vision she can only read a few words at a time and very slowly.

    Looking forward to your response, Bob who’s never commented here before and has a funny looking made up email address.

  30. @bob: Money should not be an issue, and the corporations with a duty of care to the personnel at the Antarctic bases should get people out if possible and without undue danger to anyone else. Every year a number of captains of large ships divert to help out other people at sea – these diversions easily cost over $50k per day but the maritime industry takes these losses as just part of the business.

    As far as costs go, the cost of a flight depends an awful lot on the type of aircraft. The C130 is probably the cheapest of the large aircraft (and the C130 is the largest aircraft that goes to the Amundsen-Scott base). Small aircraft cannot make it due largely to their range (but there are other reasons why a small aircraft is out) so we’re looking at costs per hour with the cost of operating a C130 at the high end. My guess would be about $3000 per hour in flight on the high end if operating at cost and on the low end about $1200 per hour. As someone else already pointed out, there may be some aircraft available from Canada (in which case the route is via South America rather than New Zealand), but the travel time is several days round trip. The C130 out of New Zealand is the best bet. Also, helicopter airlifts may be available to McMurdo and from there perhaps a smaller aircraft can do the McMurdo-Christchurch run (but only aircraft specially modified to land on the ice can do it).

  31. I am at South Pole right now. There are many pieces of this discussion, as presented in the original “saverenee” blog and its ancillary documents and in the comments here and on other blogs/aggregator sites that have picked up the story, that are distorted or inaccurate. I’m not going to bog things down by listing them all, though I will point out a few:

    1) The weather here has NOT been conducive for the landing of any type of plane for the last several weeks. While the temperatures have been relatively warm and yes, the sun is technically above the horizon, it has been alternately VERY windy (purely by coincidence, on the very day that the saverenee site started up, South Pole broke its all-time wind speed record) and very cloudy. We have barely seen the sun since the equinox. Any representation that conditions have been easily within limits for a plane to land is simply factually incorrect.

    2) Much seems to be made about Raytheon’s policy for evacuations and how they are violating it, but the sections that are referenced are strictly for summer medevacs, when planes are on the continent and flying routinely, and when the weather is generally favorable. There is a completely different section for winter situations.

    3) Renee is not an invalid. As I am not a medical professional, I cannot comment on whether she might have benefitted from a medevac in the immediate aftermath of her stroke, but at this point, the chance that a few days would make a difference to her final outcome is remote. She is up and about, interacting with the community, spending time in the clinic, eating regularly, perfectly able to read and reply to emails, etc.

    And we are talking about a few days at most. The first planes are scheduled to pass through here on 13 October. To meet that schedule, they will already be departing from Canada within a few days to a week. Even if an “emergency” deployment were authorized this very moment, it is likely that they would be no earlier than that, as the time to transit through the Americas is considerable, and the chance of a weather delay based on Rothera’s or our weather is substantial. C-130 from NZ is not an option, as none of the Hercs there now are ski-equipped, and they have an operational temperature limit of -50C, which is unlikely (though not impossible) for us to have without either high winds or thick clouds, either of which would prevent them from landing.

    4) Money is not the problem here. If money were an issue in this sort of thing, they would not have performed a medevac from McMurdo this year (a medevac which likely saved the patient’s life), nor the airdrop at Pole in late August. Both of those operations were very expensive, but significantly easier and MUCH less risky than a winter medevac from Pole. The problem here is a matter of a trade-off of risks: the risk to Renee if she remains here until mid-October’s scheduled flights vs the risk to the flight crew potentially attempting to land in adverse conditions (and to any SAR that would need to be performed if the first flight experienced difficulties). The Twin Otters are the only planes that can land and take-off in the winter’s cold (Elle’s numbers aren’t quite right: limits are -50C for LC-130, -55C for Basler, and -70C or lower for Otter), but their range is only 13 hours, and it’s 10 hours from Rothera to South Pole. Forecasting here is notoriously inaccurate thanks to limited inputs for the models, so they have to take a leap of faith when they depart Rothera and then pass the PSR 6.5 hours later (Rothera, meanwhile, ALSO has notoriously fickle weather, so there’s no guarantee of an accomodating return there). The point I’m trying to make is that it is simply flat-out dangerous to try to get a plane here in the winter, and to risk that danger, there has to be a corresponding strong need on the other end. In 2001, the doctor’s pancreatitis was considered “needy” enough, not just for the chance that it might kill him but because if it did, the entire station would be without medical care for the next six months. Now, the judgement is being made that Renee’s condition does not warrant the risk. Simple as that. One can argue about the rightness of that judgement, but to cast it as money or heartless corporation/government is not accurate. I despise Raytheon as much as the next guy (and pretty much everyone down here hates them, quite frankly), but this isn’t a good reason to inveigh against them.

    I do not mean in any way to belittle Renee’s situation. She had a stroke, in a place without the proper equipment for diagnosis and treatment, and she’s worried and scared about her condition, as anyone in her position would be. But spinning up a lawsuit, an attempted media frenzy, and political lobbying at this point is futile. A month ago, maybe not, but now, when the best possible outcome from it would be a small chance at the gain of a few days? Honestly the only thing it’s doing is raising her anxiety and stress level, which is, I think we can all agree, not a good thing.

    Finally, Greg, two nits. Your friend could not have been “the NSF safety officer at South Pole”. There is no such beast. There is a Raytheon safety engineer, a contract position hired typically for a full year but sometimes just for a summer or a winter, and there is a full-time “NSF/OPP safety officer” who works out of Washington and might or might not ever have been to South Pole. I’m thinking your friend was in the former role. Not that it makes much difference, but the implication of “NSF officer” is rather different than “contract engineer”. Second nit, you say “There have been relief supplies brought into the research station once or twice since her stroke. Didn’t realize that? Oh, well, then sign the damn petition!” There have been supplies dropped to the station once. Dropping and landing are at completely different levels on the risk scale. Did you know they used to have midwinter airdrops every winter through the 80s and early 90s? It was apparently positively routine. There have been exactly two mid-winter evacuations, and they were both hairy enough that the organization that performed them wants never to do them again, and certainly is not interested in doing one for anything less than a matter of likely life or death. Which this is decidedly not.

  32. So I to have experienced the joy and pain of working at Admusen-Scott South Pole Station for Raytheon. I know in the past there have been mid winter flights to either remove people or drop supplies. Hell this year in fact they flew a mid-winter mission to drop supplies to help fight a foot fungus someone had.
    In April 2001 they flew a mission that landed and removed the physician. Ken Borek flew in their Twin Otter at the temperature of -69c or -92f.
    When you go to the South Pole you are told by the company if something happens they will do anything and everything to get you out for more proper and advanced medical treatment.
    While I was there I was there the Firefighters SCBA air compressor hadnâ??t had the filter changed in something like 9 years. It was found out this filter which is made from silica beads should be changed something like every 6 months minimum. The filter had disintegrated and 1/3 of the silica beads were missing with the only place for them to go being into the compressor to be smashed up and then inserted as a fine particle/dust into the SCBA’s the fire fighters were using. This was brought to the companyâ??s attention and suggested to not use the tanks anymore. They told us to proceed as normal they didnâ??t think there was a problem.
    There were diesel leaks in a building about 10ft by 6 ft. The solution to these leaks was to send someone into the building without any sort of respirator or monitoring system and empty 5 gallon buckets of diesel as they got full.
    There were exit signs that lead to nowhere.
    What I am getting at here is the company is neglectful. Itâ??s about the bottom dollar and what does our publicity look like. Itâ??s not about whether they can get this woman out or not, itâ??s about, to this point there isnâ??t enough media attention on this story. When Jerri Nielsen discovered breast cancer while she was there it drew immediate attention and she was taken out ASAP. A stroke I guess doesnâ??t have the media appeal that, a woman fighting for survival from the elements and discovered breast cancer while doing it, had. All it takes is a phone call and some money and Ken Borek would be more than happy to fly down there and get her. I have dealt with his pilots in the past and they are top notch, with them anything is possible.

  33. SPWO2011: Thanks for your commments. Interesting and many are relevant but there are contradictions, and they raise some questions.

    Your version of Renee’s health and status and that indicated by the linked web site are not the same. I don’t know what to make of that. Also, you’ve made an excellent argument for why there should not be an over winter flight, but there has been at least one over winter flight, and your argument has mainly to do with flying conditions. The difference between landing and dropping is probably very important and thanks for pointing that out! But it is not the main reason you gave for not flying in. Also, Sparky notes that there have been winter flights to remove things (I assume the plane landed) and you have noted prior evacuations. So … you’ve got a nice story but it has holes in it.

    Are you a contractor with Raytheon or do you work for the NSF? You are making the point that the distinction matters. I would say it matters very little with my friend, as that was simply a person who had been to the pole. In your case, my readers will want to know whiter or not you work directly for the company being criticized here, in what capacity, and so on.

    Your friend could not have been “the NSF safety officer at South Pole”

    You’re almost certainly right that my friend was not exactly that. I am not knowledgeable about the exact terms. She was the person in charge of safety who was there all y

    Thanks again very much for your comments!


  34. Both my husband and a good friend have been stationed at McMurdo, and the friend wintered over several times….

    This story isn’t making sense. Over the winter there are few flights, and not all flights are equipped for passengers, especially not for medically fragile ones. I do know that many flights that are attempted are turned back because the weather conditions change. Wintering over is hard, and the odds of getting out are slim. It just isn’t as easy as people would like to think, and that’s assuming the pilot and crew are willing to take the risk…and they are trained to keep themselves alive

    I think there also needs to be a distinction between a true life-or-death emergency and what we’d like to think is an emergency. This woman is not dying, she’s able to communicate…why risk several other lives? She isn’t in immediate danger. Yes, it would be better for her to get immediate attention, but that wasn’t going to happen in the best of circumstances during the summertime, let alone now. It’s unfortunate, but a fact of wintering over.

    I’ve heard plenty of stories of medical emergencies that were just handled over the winter, and about the conditions and winds and blinding snow and -50 (on a nice day) temps. The ones who judge the safety are the one flying and the ones there. Yes, we can second guess them, but a medical doctor, while they may want better care for their patient, simply isn’t in a position to determine if it’s safe to fly. That’s much like us sitting around a fire berating the firemen who aren’t going in because they know it’s a suicide trap…

    I’m going to ask around, but this story is just ringing as hyperbolic to me.

  35. It just isn’t as easy as people would like to think, and that’s assuming the pilot and crew are willing to take the risk…and they are trained to keep themselves alive

    I don’t see any evidence of people thinking this is easy. Rather, I see evidence of people saying it is impossible. Yet somehow it still happens sometimes.

    The ones who judge the safety are the one flying and the ones there.

    It has been amply demonstrated that this is simply not true.

    Nonetheless, yes, this is a matter of risk comparison, and you make some valuable points.

  36. I asked my husband, who is USCG, and who spent time at McMurdo:

    “Depending on her condition, they can probably keep her stabilized on site and come in with an aircraft when the weather, light are better.  In addition, the ice runway is probably not adequately prepared for bringing in a ski-equipped C-130.  The ice ruts etc. could flip a plane over and take out an entire aircrew.

    This sounds horrible, but it comes down to a simple risk-versus-gain determination.  We do it all the time, when conditions are just too heinous to fly or send rescue boats out.”

    Another point: warmer conditions can actually make it more dangerous, because the runway is ice, and if the top starts melting at all it compromises the integrity of the runway, making it even more dangerous.

  37. There is another factor which I haven’t seen in the discussion so far. NSF learned in August that the icebreaker they normally borrow from Sweden will not be available this year, because somebody in Sweden wants that ship to be available for breaking ice in the Gulf of Bothnia (the time of year it would be needed for breaking a path to McMurdo is the time of year it would be needed off the Swedish coast). Among other things, that means that fuel which would normally be shipped by boat to McMurdo must instead be flown in. So it would be understandable for Raytheon and/or NSF to take steps to conserve fuel supplies in Antarctica. As has been pointed out above, any medevac flight would have to refuel somewhere in Antarctica. So it may be that they are not doing a medevac flight in this case because the person in charge of such things is not willing to allocate fuel to refuel the plane for the return flight. I have no direct knowledge of Renee’s medical situation, but I will guess that the person who would have to approve the refueling does not consider the situation sufficiently urgent to approve a medevac flight.

    Note the timing here. The August air drop was probably planned well in advance, and the approval for that flight came before the news about the icebreaker became public. That may explain why they were willing to do the air drop but won’t do a medevac flight.

  38. Eric, good points. And your comments underscore what I think is the real problem here: They don’t have a plan, and never did have a plan, for evacuating anybody, ever. It has become abundantly clear that evacuation takes between one and two months of planning from start to finish for simple logicality reasons.

    It is like a community agreeing to have an ambulance. Then the first time someone calls for one the 911 dispatch says “your emergency is not worthy” while what he really means is “now that you’ve called for the ambulance, we will take steps to go shopping for one! Thanks for your call.”

    I guess it might be OK if there really can never, ever be a medical evacuation from the pole. But it that is true, three things must be done:

    1) Consider not going there for the winter at all. build robots.

    2) Pay the people who go there appropriate wages. They should get whatever off shore oil workers get times two, because at least oil rigs can be evacuated most of the time.

    3) Add some more medical equipment.

  39. OH, and make a very clear statement for all to read that is utterly unambiguous that if you go there there is no way home no matter what until the magic date in October. For anybody. All the time every winter no matter what. No exceptions whatsoever.

  40. Greg: Your statement @42 is more or less what everybody who went to Antarctica in the 1990s and earlier understood: if you were still on the ice after the last plane left in March, you would be staying until at least October–that was continent-wide, not just South Pole. (I know several people who have been to Antarctica, including at least one who wintered over multiple times.) I was surprised at the news some years ago that they actually did extract somebody from Antarctica in June.

    Clearly, it is not possible to extract somebody when time is of the essence; even during the summer season cancelled flights due to poor weather are a routine occurrence. Pulling somebody out when you can afford take a few days to wait for suitable weather conditions is possible if you have plans and equipment in place for it, but as you point out, there probably wasn’t a plan in place. In any case, it should be made absolutely clear to winter-over staff that they must stay until October, certainly for South Pole, and arguably for McMurdo as well.

  41. And my friend who wintered over there twice told me:

    “It takes at least a couple of weeks to get an aircraft to the ice in the winter.  â??Skiedâ? aircraft capable of landing on the snow runway have to move crews and support from the US to New Zealand â?? setup â?? plan the flight to the ice and execute it. The Kiwis can get there faster if they want  to risk a â??wheeledâ? aircraft on the Pegasus blue ice runway (a glacier runway about 20 miles from mcmurdo) â?? but there is no power, lights etc at the field. Master Chief Galager ( a good friend of mine) died down there because of heart related problems. There is a risk when they leave you there. Personally it would be worth it for me â?? but I would understand that the medical situation is not what it is here â?? and there is a risk.”

    From what I know, when you decide to winter over there is an understanding that you probably might not get out until spring. I know that just from talking to people. If conditions are lucky maybe a evac can happen, but that is the risk of being down there. It isn’t about money, it’s the lives of the crews and the medical staff that have to accompany a medical evac. In the best of circumstances it’s weeks out, and if it isn’t life or death the risk to everyone else is just too high.

    I’m sorry for this family, and I know I’d be upset if someone I loved was there and sick and stuck…but that’s the job. Miracles on ice happen in hockey rinks, not in the Antartic…

  42. Darlene, yes, we get that perspective and it makes sense, but it does not jive with the known facts. It may in fact be that if there was serious consideration to attempt an evac, the evac may not be able to happen because of the conditions you mention, which are already well established in this conversation. But that really isn’t the point of the argument that is being made.

  43. And I say this, by the way, as a person who has spent considerable time at a research station with much less of an evac possiblity than the antarctic, and without the medical staff present (I was the medical staff). I would like to say that “fortunately nothing went wrong” but that would not be true. I have been on remote research sites, way sicker than justifiable for even extreme evacuation measures but with no way to do it, on multiple occasions.

    At least we got Rudy out that on time:

  44. There are indeed contradictions. “Holes in the story”? Not so much. The major contradiction seems to be that of Renee’s current condition. From the web site, she is at death’s door, able only to function at the most minimal levels. I see her striding up and down the halls and getting food in the galley, and I know that she is able to produce multiparagraph responses to emails within minutes. Should I take pictures? Forward personal emails? No. You can believe or not believe as you wish. I know the truth. But what I will point out is that there are blatantly factual misstatements on the web site. The claim that it’s “sunny” here? Directly refutable by official meteorology records (and the cursing of any number of scientists who have been foiled by the relentless wind and clouds of the last three weeks). The claim that Raytheon is violating its own evac policy (“see specifically pages 7, 14, 15”)? Directly refutable by simply reading the document, where winter medevacs are not even addressed until page 17. Again, I have no knowledge of the specifics between Renee, the doctors here, and the doctors in the states, but I do know what I can see with my own eyes.

    Sparky99’s comments are a good example of the kind of mush of fact vs “I heard” that permeates this discussion. At the risk of repeating myself, yes, there have been many flights in the past to deliver things. These were, as I said, apparently routine for almost two decades in the 80s and 90s and were cut for budgetary reasons, not because they were even remotely dangerous. There have been two such flights since they were removed from the winter’s routine: one in 1999 for Dr Nielsen’s cancer and one this year, not for a “foot fungal” infection but for an oral infection that had the risk of spreading to the lungs and being, guess what? Life-threatening. When they do the calculus of “airdrop or not?”, I’m sure that money IS the deciding factor; certainly the risk is minimal, while the costs are huge. And there have indeed been flights to “deliver and remove”: exactly two of them, one in 2001 and one in 2003. They were accomplished, again as I said before, by Twin Otter, in circumstances so sketchy that the pilots wish never to repeat them. And in both cases, the time from “let’s do it” to getting it done was measured in weeks, not days, due mostly to weather delays. Sparky further writes, “When Jerri Nielsen discovered breast cancer while she was there it drew immediate attention and she was taken out ASAP.” Again, completely factually incorrect. She discovered the cancer in April or May and did not leave the station until mid-October, when it happened to be warm enough to allow an LC-130 to come in from McMurdo a few weeks earlier than it was originally scheduled.

    I will also flatly contradict that “When you go to the South Pole you are told by the company if something happens they will do anything and everything to get you out for more proper and advanced medical treatment.” It is quite the opposite: you sign an NSF-mandated acknowledgement of the extreme remoteness of the location and the effects of that remoteness on access to medical care.

    Based on what I’ve heard from old-timers, Eric Lund has is completely correct that prior to the 2001 flight, the prevailing wisdom was that removal was simply not an option, regardless of the circumstance. The 2001 flight broke that “taboo”, but it didn’t change the idea that a calculus of risk to patient (and maybe community) vs risk to air crew(s) would be a linchpin of any decision-making process. Apparently there was a guy here last year who had appendicitis, which had the appendix burst could easily have killed him. The doctor requested a medevac and was denied. Luckily the infection was controlled by medication, but it’s pretty much inarguable that that case was a better candidate for medevac than Renee’s is at this moment.

    BTW, Eric Lund is not, however, on the money regarding the ice-breaker. The ice-breaker situation was in flux in July and August this year, but resolved by late August (and there will be an ice-breaker). So he’s got it backwards: the airdrop was approved when the fuel situation was uncertain, but by the time of Renee’s stroke, it was cleared up. Furthermore, any medevac flight would have been an Otter from Canada, flying through the Americas and coming here from Rothera, and as such would not have been drawing on the fuel at McMurdo. The airdrop C-17, however, DID draw on that fuel, to the tune of 17000 gallons, so in fact it’s clear that, just as money wasn’t and isn’t an issue, fuel wasn’t and isn’t an issue.

    Again, I am NOT arguing that there shouldn’t have been consideration of a medevac in the immediate aftermath of the stroke. I’m NOT arguing that Raytheon and the NSF have not been in CYA mode for most or all of this episode. I AM arguing that the current effort is pointless and potentially damaging.

    As it should be clear from the neutral name and generic email address, I am choosing to hide behind anonymity for my comments. I do this for a variety of reasons, and for the same reasons I’m going to decline to identify my employer. I apologize for that, as certainly we’d all be better served if transparency without repercussion were possible. I will, though, note (again, you can take my word for it or not, or you can read Big Dead Place or wait for Gandolfini to put it on screen to get an outside verification) that pretty much everyone here who works for Raytheon despises them, and is counting the (now mercifully short) days ’til they depart. This is very much not about “backing up” the company, it’s about proper perspective and presentation of fact. In the end, the truth of the winter will assert itself, though I’m sure in even less high-profile locations than your blog!

  45. though I’m sure in even less high-profile locations than your blog!

    You are welcome to provide a guest post on this very blog if you like (when the dust settles and you’ve cleared the coast, at least!)

  46. I do understand the family being upset, they are civilians who aren’t used to this type of risk assessment. But this isn’t like calling an ambulance, a flight takes weeks to work out, and despite what people think there are a long list of checks and balances that determine what happens. Even in summer a plane can get a ‘no go’ at the halfway point, which forces them to fly back.

    Simply put: a life isn’t in danger. People die down there because help could not come. This woman is not dying, her health is stabilized. There is no point to risking the lives of the crew and medical personnel required to fly in, and that’s working under the assumption that they would be able to fly back out.

    Better she stay put for a few weeks than be killed trying to fly out, or be responsible for the death of a crew. This is the Antarctic, flying in is just not easy or simple or, most times, even possible. I’m sure the risks were explained to her, and I’m sure she signed a bunch of waivers and acknowledgments of those risks. And instead of dealing with the facts of a wintering over, they want to risk the lives of pilots and crews to ‘save’ a woman who isn’t dying.

    I don’t see the risk being worth it. And mind you, my spouse and my friends go into risky situations all the time. I guess civilians don’t always understand the reality of those risks, or the reality of how assessments are made.

    One woman, stable. A crew of seven or eight on a basic flight: pilot, co-pilot, flight engineer, two coms guys, load master, two general aircrew…minimum. Plus a medical team, maybe another two to five people? So the lives of eight+ people, to fly under some of the most hazardous weather conditions on the planet during the worst part of the season…plus the people on the ground who have to go and make sure the runway is clear, and it’s an ice runway so it has to be prepared, which means sending people out into the dark, in subzero weather and blowing snow, to clear it off and light it up and make sure it’s safe to land. And in Antarctica, even when it’s summer and light, leaving the station to get to the runway is dangerous, it’s 20 miles away through ice and snow and crevasses. In the darkness and cold. Where you throw a cup of coffee in the air and it freezes before it hits the ground. In -50 degrees, or colder. And everyone thinks that this is something to just do? That it is always even possible?

    I’m sorry that someone is sick, and I’m sorry the family is worried. But I’m glad for the families of the aircrew that their lives also count for something.

  47. SPWO2011:

    “I see her striding up and down the halls and getting food in the galley, and I know that she is able to produce multiparagraph responses to emails within minutes.”


    but i can appreciate the point of your argument.

    well said concerning the company.

  48. Raytheon Hero Award


    In April 2002, the South Pole doctor developed a life-threatening illness requiring a mid-winter medical evacuation, a feat which had never been attempted. The temperatures at the South Pole in winter are well below the -40F operational minimum standards set by the U.S. Air Force. Knowing that the South Pole communityâ??s well-being was dependent on having a healthy doctor, Polar developed an unprecedented medical evacuation plan involving a Twin Otter flight path from Canada, through South America and on to the South Pole and back. The temperatures hovered at -90F when the plane touched down at the South Pole to safely evacuate the doctor back to South America and on to his successful recovery in the U.S.

  49. Not sure what point you’re making, Shari. On the one hand (and the one that I expect is the case), you could be saying “See, they did it before, why don’t they do it now?” On the other hand, the article you quote references a “life-threatening illness” and says the “community’s well-being was dependent on having a healthy doctor”. It was those factors that elevated the severity of the incident in 2001 to the point that it was deemed worth the risk of performing the medevac. Neither of those factors is at play in the present scenario, which no doubt is part of the reason that it was not deemed worth the risk to perform a medevac for this incident.

    Regardless of your point, it’s all moot now (as it essentially was from the moment the publicity blitz began). The planes are en route, and they’ll get here as soon as the weather (both at Rothera and here) allows.

  50. I would say that a broken jaw wouldn’t be a life threatening condition but apparently they flew him out too…
    Of course the weather was probably better at this point. My main point was that people were saying that weather was a factor and they couldn’t fly in those conditions (temp mainly being the issue from what I have seen). The previous article says that it was -90F and they got him out.

    I would think after the base Dr says that they don’t know how to deal with a stroke patient that you would want to be on the very first plane out of there. A stroke is a life threatening condition that can occurr again. Drs are not always correct which is why they rely on other opinions and technology….none of which they have down there aparently…Not like she could mosey into medical and ask for an MRI or CT of the brain…

    Ninety-six years later, another achievement was reached â?? the South Pole’s first bar fight.
    Without releasing names, the National Science Foundation, which runs the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, confirmed that two men had to be evacuated from the base Christmas Day after what one person characterized as a “drunken Christmas punch-up.”
    A C-130 Hercules military transport plane had to be dispatched from McMurdo Station, the main U.S. research base far to the north on the Antarctic coast, after one of the men suffered a broken jaw.
    “There was an altercation between two people,” National Science Foundation spokesman Peter West told the New Zealand Herald. “There’s no indication of the cause or of the background between the two folks.”
    But Britain’s The Guardian reported alcohol had been involved, and its competitor The Telegraph said the fisticuffs were over a woman.
    Canada’s National Post said the antagonists were both employees of Raytheon International, the defense contractor that does the construction and maintenance work at the Amundsen-Scott station.
    The injured man was flown on to a Christchurch, New Zealand hospital, at a cost of about $85,000. He was discharged Dec. 26 and was said to be recovering locally.
    The other man got an early return to the U.S. â?? without his job.

  51. You obviously are not particularly well-informed about the conditions or logistics down here, or else you don’t read very carefully. The broken jaw was in the summer, when planes fly here almost every day. The only reasons that it made any news at all were that it was caused by a fight and that the plane flew on Christmas (Sundays and holidays are usually “no fly” days). There are numerous “medevacs” all summer long: when the process is so easy, it’s used for all kinds of basically trivial incidents. The flights are happening anyway, so they put people on them with ease.

    Things are completely different in the winter. In winter the temperature is the main issue preventing an LC-130 Herc or a Basler from landing here, but it’s NOT the main, or really any, issue in preventing a Twin Otter, which is what was used in the April 2001 medevac that you originally referenced. The issues there are visibility, wind, and most of all the unpredictability of the weather, both here and at Rothera (whence an Otter would come). Since the plane cannot fly all the way here and NOT land, it’s basically a leap of faith at the halfway point that conditions will remain good enough to land safely here. And it’s an equal leap of faith that they could return to Rothera and land safely there. Weather prediction is not advanced here, mainly due to sparse inputs (there are VERY few stations in the interior to provide observations for modeling).

    And as I think I pointed out before, any representation that the weather here in mid-late September and early October was anything but awful is flat out false. Late September brought record-breaking (literally: we broke the all-time wind-speed record) winds and early October was full of thick low clouds. If a medevac had been spun up in early September, it’s quite possible that the plane STILL wouldn’t have reached us (while our weather has been nice for the last five days, weather at Rothera has not been so forgiving).

    Of *course* she WANTS to be on the first plane out. Who wouldn’t? So, probably, did the guy with appendicitis last year. You can’t always get what you want, and in this case I think that’s probably appropriate. The risks to the aircrews are significant, so the bar for risk to a patient in remaining here needs to be set pretty high, and people with far more information than you or I have decided that this case did not reach that level. We can disagree with their decision, but to claim that they’re not doing it because of money or callous disregard for human life is irresponsible.

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