Rescue officials have been able to land a Twin Otter aircraft about 50 kilometres away from where another Twin Otter carrying three Canadians is believed to have gone down in Antarctica earlier this week.
In a news release issued Saturday afternoon local time — early Friday evening in western Canada — the Rescue Coordination Centre New Zealand says the plan is to set up a forward base at the Beardmore Glacier.
The site has a small landing strip and a fuel depot.
Mission coordinator Tracy Brickles says two helicopters are en route and a C-130 Hercules aircraft is circling the area trying to make visual contact before landing at the forward base to deliver supplies.
A DC-3 aircraft carrying further supplies is also en route.
The plane operated by Kenn Borek Air in Calgary is believed to have gone down in mountainous terrain on Wednesday.
The pilot has been identified by friends as Bob Heath of Inuvik while media reports have identified a second crew member as Mike Denton, a newlywed from Calgary whose photographs of planes appear on the Kenn Borek website.
The third crew member has not yet been identified.
High winds, bitter cold, blowing snow and low cloud cover have hampered attempts to locate the downed plane, but a break in the weather is now providing a good chance to launch the search.
The plane’s emergency broadcast beacon has stopped transmitting, but officials say that’s not unusual since the battery life of the device is limited. They say the information they got from the beacon has allowed them to get a fix on the plane’s location.
“When the weather allows, we can use (the forward base) as a launch pad to get into the area of the last known position,” said search and rescue officer John Dickson.
The plane took off from the South Pole and headed to an Italian base in Antarctica’s Terra Nova Bay, but never made it.
The plane’s signal came from the north end of Antarctica’s Queen Alexandra range — about halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station.
The status of the three Canadians is not known and there has been no communication received from them, but officials said the plane was well-equipped with survival equipment, including mountain tents and supplies designed to last five days.