A break in the weather is giving rescue crews a chance to search for three Canadians who have been missing in Antarctica since Wednesday.
The Canadians were on a Twin Otter plane that took off from the South Pole and headed to an Italian base in Antarctica's Terra Nova Bay, but never made it.
New Zealand's Rescue Co-ordination Centre, which has responsibility for the region, said a rescue plane was scheduled to fly to the area Saturday morning (Friday afternoon in Canada). The rescue crew was to set up a base camp close to the spot from which the plane's emergency beacon had been transmitting.
``The plan at this stage is to try to establish the forward base about 50 kilometres from the last known position of the overdue aircraft, and when the weather allows we can use that as a launch pad to get into the area of the last known position,'' said search and rescue officer John Dickson.
The plane's signal came from the north end of Antarctica's Queen Alexandra range _ about halfway between the South Pole and McMurdo Station.
Once the base is set up, two helicopters from McMurdo Station would be used to start an aerial search.
``If we can get that forward base established, we can then get those helicopters moved forward and hopefully get them to the area where the aircraft was known to be and just try to establish what has happened,'' said Dickson.
Nasty weather forced a rescue flight to turn around Thursday. Visibility was down to 400 metres and the snow was almost horizontal with strong winds.
Dickson said he thought the odds of getting a base camp set up Saturday were pretty good ``at this time.''
``We have to keep in mind that the weather is constantly changeable down there,'' he said. ``But I will say the forecast is looking quite good for the rest of today, so we are hopeful and reasonably confident of getting the forward base established.''
The airplane began transmitting signals from its emergency locator beacon early Wednesday. Aircraft tried twice to spot it in the mountainous area, but couldn't see it because of poor visibility and snow.
The beacon has fallen silent, but rescuers suggest the battery may simply have died in the cold. They add the silence is not a problem because rescue teams have a fix on its co-ordinates.
No information is available on the fate of the three men aboard the ski-equipped plane, which is owned by Calgary-based Kenn Borek Air. But those who know the pilot say if anyone would know how to get through, it would be Bob Heath.
Heath, who lives in Inuvik, N.W.T., has logged thousands of hours teaching young flyers in regions from the Maritimes to northern Ontario and administers tests to other pilots, says Roger Townsend, who was a co-pilot with Heath out of Red Lake, Ont.
The Twin Otter was well-equipped with survival equipment, including mountain tents and supplies designed to last five days.