Coast Guard conducts Arctic Domain Awareness flight to assess safety of Russian researchers

Kodiak, Alaska – The crew of an HC-130 Hercules aircraft from Air Station Kodiak flew more than 1,400 miles on an Arctic Domain Awareness flight travelling above Alaska’s northern coastline to assess the safety of an imperiled mobile Russian research station 560 miles northeast of Point Barrow Tuesday.

The 17th Coast Guard District obtained information from a website (http://en.rian.ru/russia/20100516/159032877.html) that 15 researchers at the Russian North Pole 37 Station are being threatened by shifting ice. Upon arrival on scene the aircrew contacted the researchers by radio.

The researchers reported they were well supplied, in no immediate distress and were preparing for the arrival of the Rossiya, an Arktika-class Russian nuclear-powered icebreaker.

“It’s not one big mass of solid ice up there as one might think. It looks kind of thin and there are lots of cracks and open water around and through their camp. If they needed it, we could have easily dropped rafts and emergency supplies from our C-130, but the Russians said they needed no assistance,” said Capt. William Deal, HC-130 Hercules pilot and commanding officer Air Station Kodiak.

Deal added that any rescue this far north would likely require use of a Coast Guard icebreaker or air-refuelable helicopters from the U.S. Air Force. Too far from Barrow, the closest possible airport, Coast Guard helicopters would not be able to reach them.

Arctic Domain Awareness flights provide visibility on seasonal mining operations and coastal erosion while supporting the Coast Guard’s Homeland Security mission, maritime domain awareness and scienctific research, as well as testing personnel and equipment capabilities, identifying challenges and surveying sea ice.

Rossiya reportedly departed Murmansk, Russia, and is en route to evacuate the researchers in about nine days. Put in place in September, the station was scheduled to be manned through August.

Arctic flights are conducted approximately every two weeks. Flights throughout the 2010 season will be conducted from Coast Guard Air Station Kodiak.

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