Pilots return after historic South Pole rescue

After making aviation history in one of the coldest spots on the planet, two pilots returned to Canada Thursday and basked in the glow of their successful rescue mission.

A crowd of friends and fans clapped and waved Canadian flags as the crew landed at the Calgary International Airport.

"It was an amazing team effort," said Sean Loutitt, who flew an eight-seat Twin Otter from Alberta to Antarctica last week to pick up a stranded doctor who needed medical treatment.

"We had lots of people all over the place helping us," he added. "People at Rothera Station South Pole, weather forecasters ... throughout the route. We had the whole company back here in Calgary supporting us from Steve (manager Steve Penikett) right down to the engineers, parts, everything."

Loutitt, co-pilot Mark Cary, and flight engineer Norm Wong had all travelled to the South Pole before, but never during the hazardous polar winter from about March to October.

It's believed the April 26 rescue set a world record for a landing and takeoff in the cold, with temperatures around 60 C. With blowing snow, the wind chill factor produced conditions closer to 100 C.

They picked up Ronald Shemenski, a doctor at the Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station who developed pancreatitis. Shemenski, 59, was expected to have his gall bladder removed in Colorado on Thursday, but doctors postponed surgery and ordered more tests.

Loutitt, Cary, and Wong work for Kenn Borek Air Ltd., which specializes in trips to cold, remote locations.

The U.S. National Science Foundation was originally going to use an American team for the rescue, but decided to go with the Alberta company instead.