An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

McChord C-17 crew flies medevac mission out of Antarctica

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Shane A. Cuomo
  • Air Force News Agency
Airmen of the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron flew a C-17 Globemaster III on a medical evacuation mission to bring a patient requiring immediate medical attention Aug. 28 out of Antarctica.

Twenty-four hours after completing their winter fly-in season for Operation Deep Freeze, 304th EAS Airmen from McChord Air Force Base, Wash., were asked to stay in place for an additional 24 hours for a possible medical evacuation mission.

The next day the crews and a medical team assigned to the 446th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron from McChord AFB, on a routine training mission to Christchurch, were assembled and waited for word that the medical evacuation was approved and prepared to return to Pegasus White Ice Runway in Antarctica.

Like all missions, a medical evacuation requires some time to coordinate. Once the mission was given the go-ahead, there were still requirements that had to be met. Paperwork, phone calls, e-mails, mission planning and weather support all had to be in line before the mission could be launched.

"It takes several hours to get in touch with everyone," said Maj. Bill Eberhardt, the 304th EAS director of operations. "We were at the end of (the winter fly-in season), so they already started to disassemble the runway at Pegasus. They had to stop and get everyone back in place. All the forecasters, air traffic controllers and everyone had to be back in place just for this flight."

The medical team had to transform the McChord AFB C-17 from a cargo transport to a patient transport as the team set up, prepared and checked their equipment for the patient pick up in Antarctica.

"We can do pretty much whatever is required of us," said Maj. Judy Krill, a 446th AES critical care nurse. "We have two nurses and three medical technicians who are trained to provide basic care all the way up through advanced life support care."

The patient was not in a life-threatening situation, but still required surgery within 48 hours, said Maj. Barry Vansickle, a 466th AES critical care nurse. The Antarctic station members had done all they could for the patient, and as the ramp was lowered on the aircraft the ambulatory patient walked onto the C-17.

"He needed surgery and he couldn't get it down there," Major Vansickle said. "The sooner we could get him into surgery, the faster he could recover, so it's better not to waste time."

As the patient laid on the litter in the C-17, the medical team kept busy ensuring the patient was comfortable and taken care of at all times.

"We have to give the best care we can to the patient on the plane so when we get to New Zealand, he can get the more definitive medical treatment he needs," said Master Sgt. Howard Halter, a 446th AES medical technician. "

Although medical evacuations from Antarctica are not uncommon, to have an entire Air Force crew is. During the season, the National Science Foundation hires a medical nurse to handle evacuations on the C-17. Since the main season had yet begun there were few options and the Air Force took the lead.

"I like medevac missions because that means we are helping people," said Lt. Col. Jim McGann, the 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron commander. 

Comment on this story (comments may be published on Air Force Link)

View the comments/letters page