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Arctic trip saves life: Stratton crew performs daring air rescue

"They have the most amount of science down there," Bernasconi, co-pilot and Delmar native, said of the necessity to fly so many missions.

The team works closely with the National Science Foundation, which oversees operations for NASA in addition to other scientific outfits. The NSF actually owns four of the transport planes used by the 109th; the Department of Defense owns the rest.

In the southern hemisphere's summer months, October through February, the crew flies in Antarctica, and from April through September, they fly transportation missions in Greenland.

The flight time from New York to McMurdo Station in Antarctica was 41 hours. From McMurdo Station, on the southern tip of Ross Island to Davis Station, where Rooke was located, was five additional hours. Rooke was then transported to Hobart, Australia, to receive medical care at a local hospital, Bernasconi said.

The landing strip at Davis Station was a 10,000-foot-long, scraped off patch of ice on top of the sea and had dangerously "shallow" water underneath it.

The runway was hastily made by the Davis crew to handle the massive plane.

Air was the only way to get Rooke off the continent, since the nearest boat was two weeks away, and there was no guarantee he had that long.

The crew said there is no data for the minimum amount of space needed to take off in the massive transport plane since the conditions for every takeoff are different. Typically, pilots need 6,000 to 8,000 feet, Bernasconi said.

Lafrance said that the weight of the plane pushing down against the landing strip could force water toward the ocean floor and then send a wave back toward the plane, which could crack the ice.

"If you land your taxi wrong, you can break your runway," said Mark Lecours, also of Saratoga and the navigator on the mission.

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