The RNZAF has been heaped with praise from the US Embassy and US Defence Force after a daring rescue mission at the bottom of the world.
A C130 Hercules performed a medevac to Antarctica when a United States citizen, working for the National Science Foundation, fell ill at McMurdo Station near Scott Base and needed to be evacuated to Christchurch Hospital.
"This is probably one of the more complicated missions that we would actually see an aircraft like a C130 crew have to do," said US defence attache, Colonel Ian Murray.
"This is one of the missions that will test the crew and pilot skills. You are landing a giant aircraft on the ice at night without lights under [night] goggles and then you have to refuel it while the aircraft is spinning because it is so cold down there."
The C130H aircraft, with 13 crew onboard including two New Zealand Defence Force medical personnel, left Christchurch for Antarctica at 10.25pm Sunday.
It is the first time the RNZAF has flown a medevac mission to Antarctica using the goggles.
"Landing on night vision goggles is something we train for in New Zealand," said Rob Attrill, Hercules flight commander, and navigator for the brave mission.
"We don't routinely do [this] into Antarctica."
Because of Covid, the USAF C17 aircraft weren't able to join the New Zealanders "so we were privileged to be able to help out", Attrill said.
All flights south to Antarctica have a "point of safe return" - where they can turn around with enough fuel to safely get back.
"Once we get to that point of safe return, we can't go back to New Zealand, so we have to make sure the weather the runway conditions and everything is perfect to allow us to land in Antarctica," said Attrill.
The round trip south took more than 15 hours, almost all in the dark.
The US crew at McMurdo Station placed lights on the ice runway to help the Kiwis land.
"Night goggles' depth perception is pretty good - it's not entirely great down there because [we] rely on the moon."
Also against them was the weather.
It was overcast, the temperature as cold as -20C with a thick cloud layer at 3000ft.
"There was no starlight [getting] through a pretty solid cloud base."
In less than eight hours they were on the ice, the patient quickly loaded from an ambulance and onto the aircraft.
At the same time, the C130 was refueled while the engines were kept running - called a "hot refill"
"We keep the aircraft warm and stop any issues with shutting down the aircraft starting to get cold and then having to start up the engines back up again," said Attrill.
"So the main thing is to keep the aircraft nice and warm in the extreme climate down there in Antarctica."
The National Science Foundation was grateful for the New Zealand Defence Force assistance.
"This rescue ensured that an individual with a serious medical condition was able to acquire medical care not available at McMurdo Station," said NSF media officer Mike England.
"The New Zealand Defence Force is incredibly professional and capable," said US chargé d'affaires and acting US Ambassador Kevin Covert.
"We can always count on them when we need them - they get the job done and they know what they are doing."
The patient, who is a member of the United States Antarctic Programme, was not suffering life-threatening injuries and is now receiving further medical treatment at Christchurch Hospital.