Rescue of South Pole Researcher Hindered by Bad Weather

PHOTO: Rescue of South Pole Researcher Hindered by Bad WeatherPlayRenee-Nicole Douceur
WATCH Sick American Woman Close to Leaving South Pole

Bad weather is delaying an airlift of ailing Renee-Nicole Douceur from the South Pole research station where she fears she suffered a stroke two months ago. She has ramped up her pleas to be rescued.

"'Hastily. Quickly. Needs to get out of here.' That has been the theme from all the doctors here," Douceur, 58, the research manager for station contractor Raytheon Polar Services Co., told "Good Morning America" via telephone Saturday.

A cargo plane designated for her rescue headed from Chile toward the South Pole on Friday, but blizzard winds and blinding snow are preventing the aircraft from landing safely. For now, the plane is sitting at Rothera Research Station, a British-run base on the Antartic Peninsula.

Sub-zero temperatures and storm conditions, for months, have prevented planes from landing at the National Science Foundation's South Pole research station where Douceur works.

"As I sit here waiting, who knows what is going on inside me. I don't know what is inside me," said Douceur, of Seabrook, N.H., adding that she has impaired speech and vision. "I am very concerned about my health and the possible consequences of staying here."

Dr. Paul Nyquist of Johns Hopkins University said it is hard to diagnose Douceur from a distance, and without the right equipment.

"If she had a disease that was potentially treatable at this point -- and was stuck in Antarctica undiagnosed and waiting -- that would be a bad thing for her," Nyquist said.

An airlift to New Zealand, which houses the nearest full-service hospitals, might exacerbate her illness, given the uncertain effects of airplane cabin pressure and oxygen levels, he said. Doctors have said that a tumor might be causing her vision and speech problems.

The last risky medical evacuation from the South Pole was that of Jerri Nielsen Fitzgerald, a physician who had diagnosed and treated her own breast cancer until she could be flown out in 1999