New Brunswick

Missing pilot in Antarctica worries Miramichi friend

A Miramichi man is worried about an old friend who is missing after his plane went down in Antarctica earlier this week.

Donnie Stephens took flying lessons from Bob Heath in Chatham in 1980s

A Miramichi man is worried about an old friend who is missing after his plane went down in Antarctica earlier this week.

Donnie Stephens says he used to take flying lessons from Bob Heath in Chatham, N.B., in the early 1980s.

"We were pretty good friends for the time he was here. He was a real likeable guy, that's for sure," said Stephens.

Heath was piloting the Twin Otter plane that either crashed, or made a forced landing on Wednesday night near the northern end of the Queen Alexandra mountain range, some 450 kilometres from the South Pole.

Heath, who now lives in Inuvik, N.W.T., and the two other unidentified Canadian crew members, are believed to be stranded.

"Not surprised he'd be flying somewhere like that, because that was his life, that's what he wanted to do," said Stephens.

He described Heath as "happy-go-lucky. Didn't have a care in the world.

"But when it (came) to going to work, when it (came) to his flying, he was all flying, like he paid attention to what he was doing all the time," Stephens said.

"He didn't leave (anything) out. He was always checking things over. Every time he made a move, he had to have a reason for it."

An undated video, posted earlier this week to YouTube, features Heath giving safety instructions to his passengers.

Fierce winds, snow and low cloud cover have hampered search efforts, according to New Zealand Rescue Co-ordination Centre officials.

The missing plane, operated by Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air, had been transmitting an emergency beacon signal since late Wednesday, local time, alerting rescuers to the plane's exact co-ordinates, but the battery appears to have since died, officials said.

The plane had been flying from the South Pole to an Italian base in Antarctica's Terra Nova Bay. A spokesman for the U.S. National Science Foundation has said the flight was in support of the Italian National Agency for New Technologies, Energy and Sustainable Economic Development.