Page last updated at 19:19 GMT, Saturday, 2 January 2010

Historic Antarctica plane remains 'found' by expedition

Part of what are believed to be the Vickers plane's remains (image: Mawson's Huts Foundation)
The remains of the plane's fuselage had not been visible since the 1970s

A team of Australian conservationists say they have found what they believe to be the remains of the first aeroplane ever taken to Antarctica.

Australian explorer Douglas Mawson had the single-propeller Vickers with him on a 1911-12 expedition but it was abandoned because of engine troubles.

Brought to the frozen continent without its wings, the plane was used for a time as a kind of motorised sledge.

The conservationists are working to restore Mawson's original wooden huts.

The plane had not been seen since the mid-1970s, when researchers photographed the steel fuselage nearly encompassed in ice.

An iceberg in the Australian Antarctic Territory (archive image)
Australia maintains three research stations in its Antarctic territory

After searching for three summers, the Mawson's Huts Foundation team stumbled upon metal pieces of it on New Year's Day.

"The biggest news of the day is that we've found the air tractor, or at least parts of it!" team member Tony Stewart wrote on the team's blog from Cape Denison in Antarctica's Commonwealth Bay.

The "air tractor", as the plane was described, was abandoned by Mawson's expedition because its engine could not withstand the extreme temperatures. The engine itself was removed and returned to Vickers in the UK.

Mawson had removed the plane's wings back in Australia because of an accident during a demonstration flight in Adelaide which had damaged them.

Nobody was hurt in the accident but there was no time for repairs before the 31-strong expedition set sail for Antarctica.

BBC map

"The pilot was sent home to England in disgrace while the fuselage was used as an air tractor to tow sledges," according to the Mawson's Huts Foundation website.

Mr Stewart said it had been an "exciting search".

"Friday was possibly the only day in several years when the rocks were sufficiently exposed and the tide was low enough and we were here to see it," he added.

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The Independent Antarctic's first plane found in ice - 8 hrs ago
Mail Online UK How a blue moon helped uncover the wreckage of the first plane taken to Antarctica in 1912 - 9 hrs ago
CBC Researchers find remains of airplane brought to Antarctica in 1912 by explorer Douglas Mawson - 22 hrs ago
Scotland on Sunday Online Historic aircraft finally found in Antarctic - 32 hrs ago Relic of Antarctica's first plane found on ice-edge - 51 hrs ago

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