Two killed in airplane crash in East Antarctica

131 crash photo
U.S. Navy photo from the VXE-6 decom CD (1999)

While attempting to land near a remote site in East Antarctica on 9 December 1987, a ski-equipped Hercules (LC-130) airplane, owned by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and operated by U.S. Navy pilots of the Antarctic Development Squadron Six (VXE-6), crashed. Two of the 11 Navy personnel who were on board the airplane were killed, and one was seriously injured. The airplane, which was completely destroyed, was the only one of NSF's LC-130 airplanes that was configured for aerial photography and other science projects. The LC-130 airplane was making a routine supply delivery to the field camp at the site (called D-59) where Navy personnel, employees of Lockheed Georgia Company, and employees of NSF's Antarctic contractor ITT/Antarctic Services Inc. were working to repair a LC-130 that had crashed in 1971. D-59 is approximately 750 nautical miles (860 statute miles) northwest of McMurdo Station and about 110 nautical miles (125 statute miles) inland from the Adelie Coast. Since mid November, Navy pilots had been making regular flights to this site to bring supplies and equipment.

Rescue efforts at the site Among the first people from the D-59 camp to arrive at the crash site were U. S. Navy Corpsman Second-Class Barney Card and two Lockheed employees Brad Honeycutt and Johnny Howard. Card, the only person at the camp who was qualified to provide medical assistance, and Honeycutt began searching one side of the cockpit of the smoking airplane for survivors, while Howard searched the other. Howard was the first to see the crew struggling to find a way out. As they searched for a way to reach the trapped crew, these three along with others from camp realized that they had very little time. Fuel was already leaking into the cockpit, and the airplane's electrical power was still operating. Finally, they found a small hole in the cockpit and began to pull out the victims one by one.

They moved the victims from the wreckage to snowmobiles so that they could be make the mile-long trek to the camp, The litters were only 15 feet from the airplane when first explosions rocked the burning airplane. All of the victims and some of the cargo, however, had been removed. The men were taken to a makeshift emergency room where they were treated by Card and others under his direction. Although McMurdo Station had been notified, a rescue airplane crew with doctors and other corpsman was delayed by bad weather and did not arrive until eight and half hours after the crash. According to Lt. David S. Kermode, the Navy doctor who cared for the victims at McMurdo, "This was a situation that would have tasked a hospital emergency room. Card had nine cases--four of them serious, one who would have died without him."

Four of the more seriously injured were transported from McMurdo Station to Christchurch, New Zealand, for further treatment. The others were treated at McMurdo Station.