Monday, 13 April 2020

Infected Antarctic cruise passengers return to Australia on Hi Fly A340-300

Photo James Ross/AAP Image via AP
More than 100 Australian and New Zealand passengers of the Antarctic cruise ship the Greg Mortimer, most of whom infected by the coronavirus, arrived in Melbourne early Sunday on an Airbus A340 flight from Uruguay.

The plane with 112 passengers, including 96 Australians, was boarded immediately after arrival by medical staff in hazmat suits. Thirteen of 16 New Zealanders were transferred to a charter flight home.

The operator of the Greg Mortimer, Aurora Expeditions, confirmed this week that 128 of 217 passengers have tested positive for the coronavirus. Uruguay foreign minister Ernesto Talvi said two Australian passengers remain in intensive care in a Montevideo hospital.

The ship was stranded in Uruguay for more than two weeks after leaving Argentina on March 15 for a 16-day return trip to Antarctica.

“Everybody who needs to go to hospital will go to hospital and the remaining passengers will go into quarantine in hotels,” said Victoria state Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen.

The returning New Zealanders will also be quarantined in hotels.

The wet-lease specialist aviation company Hi Fly operated the flight, which was one of the longest on its A340-300, registration 9H-SUN. It left Carrasco International Airport, Montevideo at 01:45 on Saturday morning, taking just over 16 hours to travel the 12,330 or so kilometres to get to Melbourne. 

Photo  Hi Fly
The route itself was unusual, flying South and West over the border of Antarctica, a route where probably the astronauts in the ISS where the only and closest people to them. "The passengers were on an Antarctica expedition, following the trail of explorer Sir Ernest Shackleton. Such a rescue flight was only possible with the determination of Hi Fly amazing staff and crew, whom like Shackleton, in extreme circumstances, keep together and go wherever it takes to save lives." the airline said in a post on its social media pages. 

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