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An Air Force Orion returned from Antarctica last night after helping an American Air Force plane with mechanical problems.

The C-17 Globemaster III had been stranded because of a faulty fuel control unit since Sunday.

A New Zealand P-3K Orion flew to McMurdo Station's ice runway with spares and three engineers onboard on Wednesday.

The country was called to assist under the Emergency Recovery Support agreement between the United States National Science Foundation and Antarctic New Zealand.

The C-17 is in the continent as part of US Antarctica mission Operation Deep Freeze. Aircraft from the mission deploy to Christchurch during the operational season - September until March.

The New Zealand Air Force's primary Antarctic support aircraft, the C-130 Hercules, was unable to assist as it is on operations in Timor Leste.

New Zealand air component commander Air Commodore Gavin Howse said they had regularly conducted flights to the ice in the P-3K since early 2006, usually during routine patrols.

"While it is early in the season for the Air Force to be flying to the ice and by its very nature there is some risk involved with Antarctic operations, our crews are well trained and have three years of P-3K ice experience to call upon.

"As an exercise in international co-operation it was fantastic that we were able to assist. It is also nice to know that should we find ourselves in a similar situation we can rely on their support."

The commander of the United States' 304th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron, Lieutenant Colonel Jim McGann, praised the Air Force.