The Argentine Navy icebreaker and its helicopter picked up a U.S. scientific team stranded on an island in Antarctica, after thick sea ice thwarted rendezvous with the National Science Foundation’s contract ice vessel.
The 398’x83’x31’ icebreaker Almirante Irizar was at Argentina’s base on King George Island, when a request for help came from the NSF Antarctic Program, according to Argentine officials.
The team of four U.S. scientists and an employee of Colorado-based support contractor ASC, led by coastal geologist Alexander Simms of the University of California at Santa Barbara, was on icebound Joinville Island, about 100 miles distant, according to U.S. officials. The U.S. Antarctic Program’s 230’x56’x19.4’ research vessel Laurence M. Gould, which operates under a long-term contract with Edison Chouest Offshore, was unable to penetrate thick sea ice around the island.
In a two-and-a-half hour operation Sunday, the Almirante Irizar’s helicopter crew retrieved the science party, who later transferred over to the Laurence M. Gould for its return to its usual port of operations at Punta Arenas, Chile.
Argentina’s assist came just days after the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard jointly issued a long-awaited request for proposal to build the first new U.S. heavy icebreaker since the single operational one, the 399’x83’x31’ Polar Star, was built more than 40 years ago.
The Almirante Irizar is of a similar class, built in Finland in the 1970s. It completed a prolonged refit and ice trials in 2017 to return to Antarctic service.