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Sun, Jan 03, 2010

First Plane To Antarctica Found By Researchers

Aircraft Recovery Attributed To Luck

The fuselage of the first aircraft taken to Antarctica, a Vickers REP Monoplane, was found on Friday by a team from the Mawson's Huts Foundation.  The Australian group, dedicated to preserving the history of Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson, has been searching for the relic for the past three years.

"Luck has been on our side and it's been a great episode in the history of Antarctic aviation," said Dr Tony Stewart, the current expedition's leader, after the lucky New Year's Day discovery.

Antarctic explorer Sir Douglas Mawson initially intended to use the Vickers Monoplane to the first flight over the polar ice cap during his 1911-1914 expedition.  A crash during a pre-expedition exhibition flight damaged the wings and left no time for repairs. 

Mawson still took the plane and relegated it to a new ground-based role as an 'air tractor' to pull sleds on skis.  The engine performed poorly, seizing up in the cold, and was eventually shipped back to Vickers in England.  The fuselage was abandoned in Commonwealth Bay in 1913.

Dr. Stewart and his team brought high-tech equipment to aid in the search for the plane, but their eyes were the most useful tool.

"Magnetometer, ground-penetrating radar metal detectors and all sorts of things to try and look for it, but in the end it was just a combination of a very low tide, good weather and a thin ice melt," he said.

"Our carpenter was just taking a walk along the beach and just saw the metal in 10 centimeters of water, just right next to the ice." explained Stewart.

"This is the first time those rocks have been exposed in that area for some time so we've been walking around that area above the air tractor not knowing it was there under our feet all this time."



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