“Regularly Scheduled Flight” Takes on a Different Meaning in This Case

June 18, 1967

The first regularly scheduled wintertime flight to Antarctica took place. (In the Southern Hemisphere, the seasons of the year are the opposite of their order in the Northern Hemisphere.) All previous flights to Antarctica during that time of the year had involved only emergency evacuations of patients needing urgent medical treatment; otherwise, airplanes did not travel in and out of the region in the winter due to the lack of sunlight and the often severe weather conditions.

Rear Admiral James Lloyd “Doc” Abbot Jr., who served as commander of the U.S. Naval Antarctic Support Service and in this capacity oversaw logistical support of individuals carrying out scientific and naval projects in Antarctica, underscored in a National Geographic magazine article the brutal climate challenges of Earth’s southernmost continent. “Even in summer, though we call it ‘routine,’ flying to and from Antarctica is hazardous,” he noted in the article. “A man down in that icy water could live only about 10 minutes. In winter’s darkness and more intense cold, the perils are multiplied.”

The eight-hour flight began at 6:21 a.m. on June 18, 1967, at Christchurch International Airport on New Zealand’s South Island. The aircraft used for this journey was a four-engine Lockheed C-130 Hercules military transport airplane called “City of Christchurch.”

Abbot sat in the cockpit alongside the pilot, Navy Commander Fred Schneider; a total of 22 people were on board for that 2,400-mile (3,862.43-kilometer) flight. The aircraft also carried 5,000 pounds (2,268 kilograms) of mail and nearly 3,000 pounds (1,360.8 kilograms) of food. The temperature was -39 degrees Fahrenheit (-39.44 degrees Celsius) when the C-130 finally touched down at McMurdo Station, the principal U.S. Antarctic research base. “Hooded figures converged to unload the airplane,” recalled Abbot in his National Geographic article. The aircraft took off for the return trip to New Zealand six hours later.

For more information on this historic 1967 flight to Antarctica, please check out http://www.southpolestation.com/trivia/igy2/tha.pdf.

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