Pilot in vain search for nearest petrol station in Antarctica

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The Independent Online

An Australian pilot who flew his homemade plane over the South Pole at the weekend was stranded in Antarctica because America and New Zealand refused him permission to refuel.

Jon Johanson, whose plane was grounded at the McMurdo-Scott base, run by America and New Zealand, found that the research stations there had a policy of not selling fuel to adventurers. Lou Sanson, the head of Antarctica New Zealand, a government-funded body, said: "The US actually don't run a gas station in Antarctica ... and nor does New Zealand.

The US National Science Foundation (NSF) said that the countries' stations did not "supply or stock fuel for private individuals", adding: "NSF's policy is that private expeditions should carry sufficient insurance to cover the costs of search and rescue efforts."

The foundation said that rescuing adventurers and explorers stranded on the continent was expensive, and endangered its staff.

The Australian Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who knows Mr Johanson personally, tried to get the rules waived, but the US and New Zealand refused. He said: "I'm not very optimistic about being able to persuade the New Zealanders and the Americans." Instead, the NSF said that Mr Johanson could board a supply flight and have his plane carried to New Zealand on a freight ship.

Mr Johanson said: "I guess the officialdom is afraid to be seen to be helping in case the hordes come and invade. All I would like to do is make a commercial transaction for fuel."

He left Invercargill, on the southern tip of New Zealand, on Sunday and flew his RV-4 aircraft3,680 miles in about 26 hours, to cross the pole.

He said that he was forced to land at the base in Antarctica after high winds foiled his plans to fly on to Argentina.

But Shelly Peebles, a spokeswoman for Antarctica New Zealand, said that the organisation believed that Mr Johanson had always planned to land at the base.

"He abdicated complete personal responsibility for any kind of contingency plan or consideration of how he was going to get back with limited fuel," she said.

Mr Johanson denied that and said his carefully planned trip was derailed by bad weather. "Any suggestion that this was a flight on a whim is far from accurate," he said.(AP)