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Rescue plane heads to S. Pole

DENVER — After days of delays, a rescue flight headed to the South Pole on Saturday to pick up an ailing worker at the research station there.

Snow and wind had delayed the rescue attempt for five days while the rescuers awaited at British Rothera Air Station on Antarctica, 1,346 miles from the pole.

"The plan is for a 10-hour flight, 10 hours of rest, then 10 hours back. But that is flexible," said Valerie Carroll, spokeswoman for Raytheon Polar Services, the company that manages the polar station. The employee will then be flown to the southern tip of Chile for the return flight to the United States.

The weather was partly cloudy at Rothera with winds of 24 mph and visibility at 12 miles. At the polar station, the temperature was 66 degrees below zero with winds of 18 mph and visibility of one mile. The forecast was for overcast skies.

If weather blocks the return from the polar station to Rothera, the plane will fly 800 miles to McMurdo Station on the coast of Antarctica to rendezvous with a U.S. military aircraft flying from New Zealand, said Peter West of the National Science Foundation.

The ill employee, whose name is being withheld at his request, is ambulatory but may need surgery. Raytheon has declined to confirm reports he is suffering from a bladder infection.

The rescue plane is a Twin Otter, a twin-engine plane designed for rough weather, and capable of landing on small landing strips.

It is the third such rescue in four years, and is occurring in total darkness. The sun doesn't come up at the South Pole until Tuesday when the southern hemisphere spring arrives.