French helicopter crash

file photo

The Eurocopter AS350B3 Squirrel helicopter was en route across the sea ice from the resupply vessel L'Astrolabe, which was about 225 miles from Dumont d'Urville (DdU), to that station, with four men aboard--the pilot, mechanic, and two members of the French Polar Institute, or Institut Paul Emile Victor (IPEV), when a distress beacon was activated on Thursday evening, 28 October 2010. The helicopter reportedly left the vessel 20 minutes after the departure of another helo which reached DdU safely. On Friday the weather was too bad for that first helo to travel from DdU to the crash site 65 miles north, so the area was overflown by a USAF C-17 (en route from McM to ChCh) and an Australian P-3 Orion aircraft, which sighted debris scattered across 500 feet, along with three bodies.

map of the tragedy

Left, a map of the crash site.
French Antarctic vessel
A file photo of L'Astrolabe in Hobart.

On Saturday the weather improved, and the DdU helicopter (with air support from an Australian C-130) reached the crash site, and confirmed that all four were dead. The bodies were returned to DdU. For a time the USAP LC-130's were preparing to fly to the area and medevac survivors to McMurdo--a contingency that delayed the first Pole Herc flights of the season.

Support for the search and rescue operation led by the Australian Rescue Coordination Center; they contacted the USAP requesting assistance, including the C-17 support and the potential LC-130 medevac flight mentioned above. The support activities in McMurdo are described extensively in this Armed with Science military blog entry.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) also participated in the search-and-rescue effort, they are credited for the photos seen here. Their coverage is on this page...their original source of the Squirrel helicopter file photo is Oliver Balmain of SAF Helicopteres. Here's another news article from the Sydney Morning Herald.

The L'Astrolabe makes several trips from Hobart to DdU during the austral summer to support the French station.