Friday, July 9, 1999

Hawaii air tanker helps
on mercy mission

An Air Force plane needed mid-air
refueling on its way to drop supplies to
isolated scientists in the Antarctic

By Gregg K. Kakesako


A Hawaii Air National Guard KC-135 tanker was involved in a mercy mission to the most isolated spot in the world -- the Antarctic -- to help a woman who discovered a lump in her breast and can't be evacuated until October or November.

The KC-135 jet tanker, one of nine belonging to the Hawaii Air Guard's 203rd Air Refueling Squadron, left Hickam Air Force Base yesterday accompanying a C-141 Starlifter from McChord Air Force Base near Seattle.

The C-141 didn't have the fuel capacity to make a direct flight to Christchurch in New Zealand, so the Air Guard's KC-135 helped by refueling the aircraft 950 miles south of Honolulu, said Air Guard Maj. Tracey Saiki.

The KC-135 with its crew of five was piloted by Maj. Joe Kim.

The Air Force plans to drop six pallets of medical and other supplies, marked with chemical lights and strobes, from the side door of the C-141 into the dark South Pole winter on Sunday, she said.

The 700-foot parachute drop is necessary because it is now mid-winter at the National Science Foundation's Amundsen-Scott Smith Pole Station.

The temperature at the Antarctic station is as low as 80 degrees below zero with crosswinds of 60 mph. The next nearest research station is 838 miles away.

The 47-year-old woman is one of 10 women and 31 men spending the winter at the South Pole in a complex of laboratories and living quarters covered by a geodesic dome. It is not known if the lump is cancerous.

The woman, who works for Antarctic Support Services, had taken a physical in November before she left on the year-long mission.

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