Buzz Aldrin Medevac, November 2016

Buzz in a Christchurch hospital
Buzz Aldrin resting comfortably in Christchurch Hospital on 1 December.
At right is his manager Christina Korp (BA)

June 2023 seems that another passenger accompanying Buzz on this trip was Hamish Harding, the British adventurer (based in the UAE) who perished in the 18 June 2023 implosion of the submersible Titan near the Titanic shipwreck site (23 June 2023 NPR News article). Hamish had been involved with White Desert and Wolfs Fang runway development, and was a pilot on the July 2019 Gulfstream business jet flight that set a Guinness world record for a circumnavigation over the Poles. Mure details here.

On 28 November 2016, Buzz Aldrin embarked from Cape Town on what was planned to be an 8-day visit to Antarctica, which would include a short visit to Pole. He was accompanied by his son Andrew as well as by his manager/"flight director" Christina Korp.

Buzz, of course, was the second man to set foot on the Moon back on 21 July 1969. Now at age 86, he'd embarked on a custom luxury tour, organized by White Desert. The flew south on 28 November from Cape Town to the ice on an Ilyushin 76 aircraft operated by ALCI, and would stay at Camp Whichaway, the luxury White Desert camp located a few miles north of the Novo airfield.

map of East Antarctica served by ALCI
A map of the East Antarctica area served by ALCI's Dromland (Dronning Maud Land) Air Network, from the ALCI website. Here's their detailed map of the runway area.
at White Desert
Buzz and Christina at Camp Whichaway (BA). Here's an archive of the White Desert main gallery page with more photos of the camp.

On 1 December, Buzz and his tour group was flown to Pole for a brief visit on an ALCI Basler aircraft ...from what I understand the Polies didn't know he was coming until shortly before the flight. When they showed up, Buzz toured the area and station and spoke with folks.

Buzz approaching DA
Buzz approaching DA (BA).
Buzz in front of the post office
Inside the station, here's Buzz resting in front of the post office...along with Polies (from left) Adam West, Doug Howe, and Matt Smith (SS).
Buzz Aldrin at Pole
Buzz Aldrin at Pole (WW).

Buzz Aldrin peers into the growth chamberAt left, Aldrin peers into the growth chamber during the station tour (AW). At some point during his visit, Buzz started to feel shortness of breath and was examined by the station medical staff. They discovered symptoms of altitude sickness (as Aldrin reported on his website) Following discussions between the Pole doctor, White Desert's doctor, and NSF, NSF agreed to provide a humanitarian medical evacuation flight as soon as possible (1 December 2016 NSF press release). And as it turned out, an LC-130 aircraft was on deck when the official medevac decision was made. One of the cargo folks was in the process of loading retrograde cargo when he was told to stop...instead he grabbed his snowmobile, picked up Buzz's son Andrew, and they went to retrieve Aldrin's baggage from the Basler he'd flown in on.

Buzz was flown to McMurdo along with his manager Christina Korp. And, apparently, they were soon transferred to a regularly scheduled SAFAIR L-100 aircraft which got them to Christchurch on the morning of Friday 2 December. Buzz was transferred to Christchurch Hospital by ambulance (Christchurch Press article).

Buzz with NASA deputy administrator Dava NewmanHe was suffering from fluid in his lungs, one of the symptoms of altitude sickness, and he remained on oxygen for awhile, although he was permanently off oxygen by Saturday (3 December) afternoon. On Friday afternoon he was visited by NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman (right) (BA)...interestingly, she was in Christchurch because she'd been part of a just-concluded DV visit to Antarctica--in fact, she'd been to Pole the day before Buzz's visit. Here's a screen shot of the DPP Facebook announcement of that trip, which also included DPP director Kelly Falkner and other DPP and NSB members, some of whom presumably had signed off on the medevac. On Wednesday 6 December, Buzz's daughter arrived in New Zealand...and there were hopes that Buzz's doctor would release him to travel home in a day or two. Oh, the doctor's name is...David Bowie! Hmmm. Ground control to Major Tom....

On 9 December he was released from hospital and was heading home with a medical escort (CBS News article).

Other coverage--the story was well documented by both the New York Times and the Washington Post. I mentioned Buzz Aldrin's website above. Also relevant is this ExplorersWeb article (alas, the original IAATO articles are no longer available and was not archived). And here's NSF's second press release issued after Buzz Aldrin's medevac flight had arrived in Christchurch.

More recently, AirMedRescue described the coordination and assistance provided by the travel insurance company Seven Corners Assist, but that page no longer exists either.

Some clarifications/details/extreme trivia...first, the aircraft which brought Buzz Aldrin to the ice and to Pole were operated by ALCI as mentioned above--they are a South African-based company which provides air services to national programs and tour operators, including White Desert. ALCI's non-governmental arm is The Antarctic Company (TAC), which also operates tourist facilities near the Novo runway and elsewhere. White Desert is exploring establishing their own separate runway facility at the former Blue One runway...a blue ice site 50 miles/80km south of the Whichaway Camp. The Blue One runway (which White Desert is calling the Wolfs Fang Runway) was previously used by ANI up until 2001, and yes, it was originally identified by friend the late Charles Swithinbank in the 1980s. Here is White Desert's 2016 environmental evaluation of Wolfs Fang Runway. The summary note in the Antarctic Treaty System database indicates the project has no significant impact.

And then there is that stuff put out there that NSF might have said that Buzz Aldrin was the oldest person to have visited Pole--reported in several places including this 14 December Washington Post article. NOT true. First...NSF's official position as told to me is "we cannot confirm." Which of course is true. The various NGO organizations who fly people to the Antarctic do not require documentation of age or even a physical exam...typically they only require medical forms filled out by the travelers, and any furnished age information is not provided to NSF, IAATO, or any other official body. Second...medical and age information furnished by official NSF visitors/USAP participants is protected by privacy laws...unless the relevant folks have chosen to reveal that information. Third and most significantly, we Polies know that in 1995-96, Norman Vaughan, then a surviving member of Byrd's first 1928-30 expedition, visited Pole at age 90 (link to info/photos), a year after his successful summit of Mount Vaughan. Another person mentioned has been Sir Edmund Hillary; his last visit to Pole was in January 1997 as part of his Antarctic visit to mark the 40th anniversary of Scott Base, he was 77. He would make two later visits to Scott Base and McMurdo in November 2004 and January 2007, but he did not travel to Pole on those visits. Previously, the oldest documented official Pole visitor was Walter Nash, a former Prime Minister of New Zealand, who visited Pole on 29 January 1964 at age 81.

Photo credits etc...AW is Adam West, SS is Scott Smith, WW is Wayne White, BA is Buzz Aldrin's Twitter site and/or Christina Korp's Twitter site. Also thanks to Kevin Vogel!