The New Zealand Defence Force has conducted a survival-training course in Antarctica as it gears up for the start of its annual airlift mission to the continent.
Battling temperatures as low as -31C, seven aircrew and two survival training instructors from the Royal New Zealand Air Force spent one night in tents on the sea ice in front of the Erebus Ice Tongue, with a second night in trenches dug into the ice on the Ross Ice Shelf.
Sergeant Ryan Turei, one of the RNZAF instructors of the Extreme Cold Weather Survival Skills Training course, said the goal was to prepare students for the environment they will be operating in.
“The priority is survival, so we teach them tactics that could facilitate their survival and rescue in worst-case scenarios,” Sergeant Turei said.
The week-long course, conducted once a year with Antarctica New Zealand, aims to give students a fighting chance to survive in the world’s coldest and most hostile environment.
It covers basic techniques to stay warm, building shelters and techniques to facilitate ice rescues, including the effective use of locator beacons, flares and emergency blankets.
“The most important advice we give to our students is to be prepared – physically and mentally. There are not many second chances in that kind of environment.”
Flying Officer Max Longdill, who will fly one of the C-130 Hercules flights to Phoenix Airfield for the first time this month, said the survival training was “enormously valuable”.
“The training ensures that, in the unlikely event that it is required, we have the best chance to survive in the harsh environmental conditions of Antarctica,” the 23-year-old co-pilot said.
“It gives us a lot of confidence when we are flying our aircraft down to the ice.”
On average, the NZDF’s yearly airlift missions to Antarctica ferry about 320 scientists and support staff and 40 tonnes of freight.