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10 great escapes

Oct. 12, 2010, 4:39 p.m.
Amundsen-Scott South Pole Research Station

Photo: National Science Foundation

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Escape from Antarctica

Dr. Ronald Shemenski was the only medical doctor among 50 scientists at the South Pole's Amundsen-Scott research station (pictured) in April 2001, so when he passed a gallstone and developed severe pancreatitis, everyone knew it was bad news — especially since the long Antarctic winter was just beginning.

No one had ever flown into Antarctica so close to winter, but fearing Shemenski's condition could worsen, the National Science Foundation decided to try. It sent in a small rescue plane on April 14, and after several weather delays, it finally reached the Antarctic coast on April 22, greeted by daytime darkness and temperatures of minus 80 degrees. The plane then had to wait three more days before flying inland to the research station, where it finally arrived on April 24. Shemenski was flown out the next day, and once back in the U.S., doctors found he had also suffered a heart attack on top of his other ailments. They performed heart surgery on May 3, followed by gall bladder surgery in June, and he eventually made a full recovery.