On 2nd March, 2008 at about 08:30 h UTC a helicopter of the German research vessel Polarstern crashed circa 2.4 km from the German Antarctic station Neumayer II. The helicopter was supposed to transport several of the expedition's participants to the Neumayer station, who were to help unpack the containers carried by Polarstern, a common procedure when supplies are delivered.
The Neumayer station is about 9 kilometres from Polarstern's berthing place at the ice shelf edge. The reason for the helicopter crash is yet unknown. The Office for Aircraft Accident Investigation of the Luftfahrt-Bundesamt is informed and involved in the investigations.
The accident claimed the lives of the German pilot (37) and a Dutch scientist (45). The pilot was a highly experienced professional helicopter pilot and flying instructor with more than 3000 flying hours and had already operated in the Arctic and Antarctic several times. Three other persons (a 25-year-old Frenchwoman, a 24-year-old German, a 27-year-old Dutchman) were injured, two of them badly. The injured persons are no longer in peril of their lives. There are no employees of the Alfred Wegener Institute or members of the construction team for the new Antarctic station among the victims. To protect personality rights, the Alfred Wegener Institute will not publish further information on the victims.
One of the injured persons reported the accident to the Polarstern and to the second helicopter over the emergency radio. Thanks to this prompt and prudent reaction the medical evacuation chain could immediately be activated, and the injured persons could get medical treatment. Immediately after a first medical treatment at the scene of the accident, the second helicopter flew the injured persons to the Polarstern, where they are now at the infirmary under the care of three physicians (the ship's doctor of Polarstern, the physician of the Neumayer station, and the physician of the Neumayer III construction site). The bodies of the deceased have been recovered and will be transferred to their home countries as soon as possible.
Due to unfavourable weather conditions it will most probably not be possible to evacuate the injured persons before the early hours of 5th March. They will be transported from the Neumayer station to Capetown by plane with the DROMLAN air network with a stopover at the Russian Antarctic station Nowolazarewskaja. A doctor will accompany the transport.
The Polarstern helicopter was of the type BO 105 CBS 4. The average annual flight performance of a Polarstern helicopter amounts to circa about 225 hours. Flight recorders are not compulsory for field helicopters.
A commemoration in honour of the victims of the helicopter crash took place at the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven on 3rd March at 14:00 h. At 18:30 h UTC another obsequy in remembrance of the deceased will take place in the Antarctic on board Polarstern.