1956: A First-of-a-Kind Flight Takes Place in the Skies Above Antarctica

December 22, 1956

The first tourist flight to Antarctica took place. The plane used for this trailblazing airborne journey was a DC6B plane of Linea Aerea Nacional (LAN), which was the flag carrier of Chile at that time and is now known as LATAM Chile. United Press (since renamed United Press International) reported a few days before that nonstop trip, “The purpose of the flight is to reaffirm Chilean sovereignty over a segment of the Antarctic Continent which it claims and to pioneer what is expected to become an important tourist attraction.”

This flight departed from the hamlet of Chabunco in Punta Areas, the capital city of Chile’s southernmost region (Magallanes and Antarctica Chilena), at 5:36 a.m. There were a total of eight crew members and 66 passengers, collectively characterized in a headline of the New York-based Daily News as “Antarctic Rubbernecks,” on board the plane.

The crew members for this trek in the skies above Antarctica included Alberto Bermudez and Jorge Jarpa, the pilots; Eric Campaña, the flight engineer; Januario Lazo, the radio operator; and Adalberto Fernandez, vice president of LAN. The other crew members were Hector Garcia, Poligena Nerlich, and Karen Hanke.

The parts of Antarctica over which the plane flew were the South Shetland Islands and Trinity Peninsula. The plane returned to Chabunco at 2:00 p.m. that day, and the passengers were each given diplomas certifying their participation in that pioneering flight.

“The old chestnut, ‘It’s a small world,’ receives fresh force with the report of the first tourist flight to Antarctica,” noted the Edmonton Journal (based in the Canadian province of Alberta) five days later. “Trans-Arctic flights by commercial planes are an old story, of course, but this is a new development.”

(The above photo of one of LAN’s DC6B planes was taken at Los Angeles International Airport in 1965.)

Photo Credit: Jon Proctor (licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.2, at https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Commons:GNU_Free_Documentation_License,_version_1.2)

For more information on transportation milestones involving Antarctica, please check out https://www.erebus.co.nz/Portals/4/Documents/articles/Timeline%20-%20Tourism%20in%20Antarctica.pdf

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