Rescue plane flies sick doctor to South Africa

A twin-engined propeller plane has carried a sick American doctor out of Antarctica.

A twin-engined propeller plane has carried a sick American doctor out of Antarctica.

Dr Ronald S Shemenski was flown to safety in Chile from the South Pole research station where he was stricken with a gall bladder condition.

The Twin Otter aircraft carrying Dr Ronald S Shemenski landed under overcast skies at Punta Arenas.

Shemenski later confessed he never worried once about the flight, saying ‘‘these pilots were good’’ and that he rested on a makeshift bed atop a ‘‘couple of 55-gallon fuel drums’’.

Shemenski, who walked off the plane in a Parka with a fur-lined hood, greeted rescue organisers despite his ailment. He added he would fly to Colorado for medical care and a decision on when to have surgery.

‘‘I’m fine. I’m quickly recovering,’’ said Shemenski, 59, at a news conference. He said he would have preferred to have toughed it out at the pole, rather than risk the lives of the rescue crew.

Shemenski talked about his mixed feelings about leaving the base and the researchers he was just getting to know there.

‘‘I’m disappointed. I’d like to be back,’’ he said.

Later he acknowledged that it would have been dangerous to have stayed because of the risk of another flare-up of gallstone pancreatitis, caused when a gallstone passes down the bile duct, irritating the pancreas.

Shemenski, 59, said he was six months into a year-long stint at the South Pole and still eager to go back next year. ‘‘If I get this medical condition taken care of, I’m hoping to go back next winter.’’

The five-hour flight across the Drake Passage to Chile marked the last leg of Shemenski’s long journey out of Antarctica. The plane was followed by a back-up aircraft.

Rescuers decided to risk the evacuation because of fears that Shemenski’s health could deteriorate after worsening weather made the South Pole unreachable.

Shemenski was the only physician among 50 researchers working there, and his replacement was brought in by his rescuers.

‘‘It’s great to have them home,’’ said Tom Yelvington, general manager at Raytheon Polar Services, the US-based company heading the rescue effort.

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