Flying with night vision goggles, an Air Force crew dropped medical supplies to the U.S. research station at the South Pole early yesterday morning. "People on board were giving each other high fives and hugging," says Captain Bill Barksdale, chief of public affairs at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma, Washington. The supplies included drugs and diagnostic equipment for the station's staff doctor, who recently found a lump in her breast and cannot be evacuated until late October (ScienceNOW, 8 July 1999 ).
"This is probably one of our most challenging peacetime missions--many would argue our most challenging," mission commander Lt. Col. John Pray said Saturday at a preflight press conference in Christchurch, New Zealand. After a 7-hour flight, the C-141 transport plane flew over the perpetually dark South Pole at 1:30 a.m. Eastern time. It took about 25 tense minutes for the pilots to locate the drop zone, which was obscured by blowing snow, and make their first approach. Then, when the cargo door was opened, the fierce winds almost sucked the first pallet out prematurely. During two passes, the crew shoved a total of six pallets--one every 5 seconds--into the sub-zero air.
Within seconds after the strobe-lit cargo hit the ground, members of the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station rushed to the drop zone in tractors to retrieve the supplies--which included some 220 kilograms of fresh fruits and vegetables--before they froze.
"There's a great sense of relief that the drugs have arrived," says Mary Hanson, a spokesperson for the National Science Foundation. For the next 3 months, the 47-year-old doctor will use the air-dropped video equipment and ultrasound scanner to consult with physicians in the U.S. The 41 crew members of the station celebrated the successful drop with a tossed salad, a delicacy for people who have had no supplies from the rest of the continent--or from the rest of the world--since February.