Arctic trip saves life: Stratton crew performs daring air rescue

The freezing rain and snow of an Upstate winter may seem like the worst Mother Nature has to offer, but it is nothing compared to the ice, wind and cold of the Antarctic.

When you're down there, anything can happen. It's an unforgiving continent, said Maj. Paul Bernasconi of the frigid Antarctic conditions.

Bernasconi, a member of the 109th Air National Guard Airlift Wing based out of Scotia, was on his way in mid-October to his tour of duty in Antarctica, with stops along the way in California, Hawaii and New Zealand.

Somewhere near the research facility at Davis Camp in Antarctica, Dwayne Rooke lay incapacitated with a broken pelvis, two broken legs, a punctured lung and a serious problem: He had no way home.

It was in Hawaii where members of the 109th learned they would attempt the daring rescue of Rooke, traversing Antarctica in the longest trip its transport plane has made down there.

Members of the 109th include locals from Saratoga, Schenectady and Albany counties, and they fly out of the Stratton Air National Guard Base in Scotia.

The crew made the dangerous rescue on Nov. 5, and, along with members of the Australian Antarctic Division, helped get Rooke, a chef and part-time medic with an Australian scientific research team, to safety despite 80 mph winds and subzero temperatures.

Rooke's injuries were from an all-terrain-vehicle accident that broke several bones and punctured his lung. The team's medic kept him alive for nearly two weeks until the 109th was able to respond, but he was not healing well and needed treatment at a medical facility.

"It was a rewarding mission to do, and it was a success," said flight commander Maj. Dave Lafrance, a Saratoga native and mission commander.

The crew regularly shuttles supplies, tools and equipment to research locations in the South Pole using an LC-130 transport plane, also known as a "Hercules."

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