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Plane completes South Pole rescue

DENVER — An airplane carrying an ailing worker from the U.S. research station in the South Pole landed in Chile on Sunday on an emergency rescue flight.

The twin turboprop Twin Otter landed in Punta Arenas in the southern tip of Chile at 10:30 p.m. EDT after stopping at a British base on the coast of Antarctica, said Elaine Hood of Raytheon Polar Services.

The plane took off from the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station about 5 a.m. EDT for the British Rothera Air Station, some 1,350 miles away, said Valerie Carroll of Raytheon Polar Services.

The Denver-based company manages the polar station for the National Science Foundation.

The ill employee was to be flown to the United States from Chile on a charter. The employee, whose name is being withheld at his request, can walk but may need surgery. Raytheon has declined to confirm reports he is suffering from a bladder infection.

The patient's destination in the United States will not be disclosed to protect his identify, said Peter West of the National Science Foundation.

The pilot flew the 16-hour round trip to the polar station and back to Rothera. The patient boarded a second Twin Otter for the flight to Punta Arenas. The plane also carried two pilots, an engineer and a physician's assistant.

The 900-mile, five-hour flight across open ocean to Punta Arenas, at the southern tip of Chile, can be anything but a milk run.

"The Drake Passage between Chile and Antarctica has probably the worst weather in the world," said Steve Penikett, manager of Kenn Borek Air, based in Alberta, Canada, which operates the planes used in the rescue. "It's a long ways, and kind of cold."

The rescue flight had been delayed for days because of wind and snow during the southern hemisphere's spring season.

"Definitely the weather at the bottom of the world is very fickle in the spring," said Carroll.

It was the third such rescue in four years and occurred in darkness. The sun doesn't come up at the South Pole until Tuesday.