The death of a helicopter pilot in Antarctica highlights the icy continent’s risks, the Australian government says, as investigations into how he died get under way.
David Wood, 62, was sling-loading fuel to a depot on a remote ice shelf when he fell 20m down a crevasse on Monday.
He was stuck in the crevasse for three hours before being rescued and flown to a medical facility but died on Tuesday night.
The head of Australia’s Antarctic program Nick Gales said the exact nature of Mr Wood’s death was now the subject of a coronial inquiry.
The Australian Antarctic Division will also investigate the circumstances of the accident and review its activities, but the risk will always be there, Dr Gales said.
“Antarctica is a beautiful place but it is very dangerous,” Dr Gales told reporters in Hobart on Wednesday.
“With training and proper procedures, we minimise and mitigate the risk to the maximum degree we can – you cannot remove the risk entirely.”
Dr Gales said Mr Wood was one of the most experienced pilots in Antarctica with more than 30 years’ experience, having first worked with the program in 1993.
He’d been a contracted employee with the Australian Antarctic program at Davis station since December and would be remembered “incredibly fondly”.
Mr Wood was a dual Australian and Canadian citizen who was born in Canada but lived in Perth for a number of years.
His body will be repatriated to Australia, possibly this weekend depending on the weather.
“Our Airbus is on standby to assist us with that task,” Dr Gales said.
“Our absolute priority is working to ensure our staff and colleagues and David’s family are supported as much as possible during this very difficult time.”
The fall occurred when two helicopters were sling-loading fuel to a depot on the West Ice Shelf, 90 nautical miles northeast of Davis station.
The two pilots had landed on the remote ice shelf after dropping the fuel drums at the depot site.
Mr Wood fell down the crevasse after leaving his aircraft to retrieve the sling, while the second pilot flew back for help.
Dr Gales said Mr Wood had been flying alone as is standard procedure when slinging fuel.
Environment Minister Greg Hunt said Mr Wood was admired for his passion, dedication and professionalism.
The incident had been reported to the ACT coroner and Comcare, the agency responsible for safety and compensation.
“David’s tragic death is a reminder of the hostile, remote and inherently dangerous environment in which our dedicated Antarctic teams carry out their important work,” he said in a statement.
“My thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends and colleagues at this very difficult time.”