UPDATE 2: US Air Force to the Rescue! C-130 Departs McMurdo With Injured Korean Sailors

US Air Force C-130 antarctica
Photo courtesy of the National Science Foundation

Update 2: 13 Jan 2012

A United States Airforce (USAF) C-130 Hercules aircraft departed McMurdo station at 12.35pm today (NZDT) with the 7 injured crew on board. Three of the men are seriously injured.

  • The aircraft’s ETA in Christchurch is 8.45pm this evening (NZDT).
  • The injured crew will be taken to Christchurch hospital on arrival for assessment and further treatment as required.
  • Note that photos and video are not available. The USAF advise there will be no media access or interviews when the aircraft lands in Christchurch.
  • RCCNZ’s role in the incident will come to an end once the aircraft lands in Christchurch

UPDATE 13 Jan 2012:

The USAF C-17 Globemaster III aircraft was unable to make its scheduled flight from Christchurch to McMurdo Base overnight because of weather conditions at the destination.

    • The Nathaniel B. Palmer carrying the injured crew has arrived at McMurdo, and the injured crew are being transferred by helicopter to the base.
    • They will be flown to Christchurch this afternoon (leaving approximately 12.15pm NZDT) on a special flight using a C-130 which was already at McMurdo. The flight is expected to arrive at Christchurch at around 8pm NZDT.

(MARITIME NZ) A United States Airforce (USAF) C17 Starlifter Globemaster III aircraft will leave Christchurch tonight to help recover seven crew injured in a fire on board the Korean fishing vessel Jeong Woo 2 in the Ross Sea early on Wednesday morning (NZDT).

The Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand (RCCNZ) is currently working with a range of agencies to help facilitate the recovery of the seven injured men from the Korean vessel back to New Zealand for hospital treatment.

RCCNZ Search and Rescue Mission Coordinator Greg Johnston said attempts were being made to get a team, including Vietnamese and Indonesian interpreters, on board the aircraft, which was already on a scheduled flight due to leave Christchurch about 9.30pm today.

“Weather permitting, it’s expected that the USAF aircraft will get to McMurdo base about 2am tomorrow (Friday), arriving about the same time as the American research vessel Nathaniel B Palmer, which is currently making her way through the ice with the seven injured crew on board.

“The rescue mission is, however, dependent on the weather and sea conditions, with fog at McMurdo currently causing poor visibility. However, a back up aircraft, a LC 130 Hercules based at McMurdo, is also available if the larger C17 aircraft can’t take off.”

Mr Johnston said once both the vessel and the aircraft had reached McMurdo, the injured crew would be transferred to the aircraft and flown back to Christchurch for treatment.

“All going well, the aircraft will depart McMurdo about 5am, arriving back in New Zealand around 10am, but there are still a number of factors that could cause this to be delayed.”

Two of the seven injured men have received extensive burns (50% and 30% respectively), but have recovered consciousness, and five others have received lighter burns injuries. The Nathaniel B Palmer has medical staff and facilities on board to assess the injured crew’s medical needs, with advice that they are currently stable. The ship’s progress will depend on ice and weather conditions. Three crew have died in the fire.

In the meantime, the 30 surviving crew are all on board the Jeong Woo 2‘s sister ship, the Jeong Woo 3, with plans for the vessel to rendezvous with the Korean ice-breaker the Araon, which will collect the crew and take them back to Lyttleton, with the ship estimated to arrive on January 19.

Jeong Woo 2 fire
Shot of the Jeong Woo 2 taken from the vessel Nathaniel B Palmer, Credit: Johnny Pierce/Nathaniel B Palmer

Once safe to do so, the wreck of the Jeong Woo 2 will be towed by its sister ship to a position north of 60 degrees south when her future will be decided.

The 51 metre fishing vessel Jeong Woo 2 caught fire in the Ross Sea about 2000 nautical miles (3704 kilometres) southeast of New Zealand and about 600 kilometres north-northeast of McMurdo Base.

A number of vessels responded to the vessel’s distress call, issued in the early hours of Wednesday morning (NZDT). The call was picked up by another Korean fishing vessel, Hong Jin 707, and relayed to RCCNZ by the New Zealand vessel Antarctic Chieftain just before 3am (NZDT) on 11 January.