A memorial service has been held in Antarctica to honour three Canadians who died in a plane crash there last week.
The men, all employees of Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air, were killed when their Twin Otter slammed into a steep, snow- and ice-covered slope on the Queen Alexandra mountain range.
The U.S. National Science Foundation held the brief, impromptu ceremony Sunday at its Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station. About 75 people, including three Ken Borek colleagues, gathered outside for a moment of silence as an American flag was replaced with a Canadian one for the day.
The foundation’s South Pole area manager, Bill Coughran, read aloud the famous flying poem “High Flight.”
“Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth/And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings.”
The foundation’s Palmer Station on the Antarctic Peninsula has also lowered its Canadian flag to half-mast for three days in what staff are calling “remembrance of the fallen members of our Antarctic family.”
“We have been privileged to experience first-hand their professionalism, skill and dedication to the arduous task of supporting science in an extremely remote and inhospitable environment,” Kelly Falkner with the polar programs division said in a news release.
“Although everyone associated with the pursuit of science in Antarctica makes personal sacrifices to do so, very infrequently and sadly, some make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Kenn Borek Air has been flying planes in Antarctica for nearly three decades.
The company has not identified its dead crew, but friends have named the pilot as Bob Heath of Inuvik, N.W.T. Media reports have identified the other two crew members as Mike Denton, a newlywed from Calgary, and Perry Andersen of Collingwood, Ont.
Their plane had left the Amundsen-Scott station and was en route to an Italian research base in Antarctica’s Terra Nova Bay when its emergency locator beacon began transmitting a signal late Tuesday night.
Bad weather hampered rescue efforts until Friday, when searchers spotted the wreckage and determined no one on board could have survived.
Peter West, a spokesman with the National Science Foundation, said American and New Zealand search teams in helicopters were later able to land near the site and get to the wreckage on foot.
They were not able to safely recover the bodies of the men and will not be able to try again until possibly October, when winter in Antarctica is over and a new research season begins.
“The front of the plane is buried in snow and ice, in addition to the fact that there was intervening debris in between the tail and the forward part of the aircraft, which also made it difficult to get to the crew compartment,” West said.
But the cockpit voice recorder, located in the back of the plane, was retrieved. It is on its way to an Ottawa lab to be examined, said Chris Krepski, a spokesman with the Transportation Safety Board.
The board has started looking into the crash because the plane was owned by a Canadian company. An initial report states the plane was being guided by instruments before the crash.
Krepski said the board has not yet decided if investigators will eventually travel to the site or complete a final report. That could be left to another agency.
The New Zealand Rescue Co-Ordination Centre earlier said that it appears the plane was on course but turned too early while flying through the mountain range.