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Massive Defence Contribution To NZ's Antarctic Mission

An RNZAF Boeing 757 sits on a runway of ice readying for the last flight of the summer season in Antarctica.

An RNZAF Boeing 757 sits on a runway of ice readying for the last flight of the summer season in Antarctica

The New Zealand Defence Force’s summer-season support to our country’s commitment to the pristine Antarctic region has drawn to a close with the final Royal New Zealand Air Force Boeing 757 ice flight.

Around 200 Defence Force personnel directly supported the mission at various stages of the October to March season, with the mission peaking in February during the annual supply ship offload where Defence personnel worked round the clock in freezing conditions.

The Royal New Zealand Air Force was responsible for shifting more than 5,500 people and approximately 2.5 million pounds in cargo utilising six RNZAF C-130 Hercules and four RNZAF Boeing 757 and US ice flights. This was the largest number of flights made by RNZAF B757 aircraft to Antarctica in a season.

Commander Joint Forces New Zealand, Air Vice-Marshal Kevin Short, says the Defence Force’s support to Antarctica is a longstanding commitment and will become our largest annual mission once our personnel withdraw from Bamyan Province, Afghanistan next month.

"The Defence Force has supported Antarctica NZ and the US Antarctic Programme for over 50 years. During the summer season in Antarctica our personnel from Navy, Army and Air Force operate in some of the harshest conditions in the world. The Defence Force takes pride in our ability to utilise our unique skills to complete the job safely and efficiently in a difficult environment, working alongside Antarctica NZ, United States military personnel and US National Science Foundation staff and scientists."

This season the 17 person NZ Army Light Engineering Team performed a number of critical engineering tasks in support of McMurdo Station operations to ensure facilities and major infrastructures can withstand the harsh winters, including welding repairs to the 20km main fuel line between Pegasus Airfield and McMurdo Station.

The 26 person NZ Army Ship Offload Team unloaded and loaded the main supply container ship, crucial to support teams through the winter season.  At the same time the 22 person NZ Army Driver Support Team worked in the 24 hour daylight to move cargo from the container ship to McMurdo Station.

Eight Defence Force personnel from the three Services completed a full six month season at Scott Base working in communications, air cargo handling, plant operations and operations management roles.

A small number of personnel supported the US Air National Guard with maintenance tasks. A 12 person RNZAF team conducted survival skills training for air crews on the ice, and the Air Force also provided emergency recovery and search and rescue standby for US aircraft operations.

18 personnel based at Harewood Terminal in Christchurch operated continuously throughout the season processing and loading and unloading both RNZAF and US ice flights.

The Defence Force’s Senior National Officer for Antarctica, Lieutenant Commander Barry Holmes, says the season went really well.

"It’s been an extremely busy few months with long hours and a lot of moving parts. Each day was different with its own unique operational challenges, yet every day down there you would think it is amazing to be working in a place like Antarctica."

"All our Defence Force personnel proved themselves to be crucial to the efficient running of operations in Antarctica supporting Antarctica NZ and the US Antarctic Programme. There is always great camaraderie between our people and Antarctica NZ and US personnel."

ENDS

Background

The Defence Force has been involved in Antarctica for over 50 years, helping New Zealand play its part in the international effort to safeguard the pristine environment.

New Zealand strongly supports the Antarctic Treaty and associated peaceful scientific programmes, in partnership with the international community. New Zealand’s strategic interests in Antarctica include the need to maintain sovereignty over the portion of Antarctica claimed by New Zealand (the Ross Dependency).

With the Defence Force departing Bamyan Province, Afghanistan next month, Antarctica will again become the Defence Force’s largest annual mission.

The Defence Force has a long standing good working relationship supporting Antarctica NZ and the US Antarctic Programme.

Antarctica is one of the Defence Force’s specialist areas of operations, utilising the right people and equipment to cope with the challenging environment.

For further information contact the Defence Communications Group, 021 487 980.

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