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Foreign Minister intervenes on behalf of Jon Johanson stranded at McMurdo Station, Antarctica.

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Wednesday 10 December 2003

Foreign Minister intervenes on behalf of Jon Johanson stranded at McMurdo Station, Antarctica


MARK COLVIN: The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer has intervened on behalf of a stranded Australian adventurer, Jon Johanson, and asked New Zealand to sell him enough fuel to fly his aircraft from Antarctica back to Australia. 


The South Australian aviator was attempting to fly a fixed-wing plane over the South Pole, but he was forced to land at McMurdo Station, a joint American-New Zealand base, after encountering bad weather. 


Mr Johanson wants to fly his plane out, but so far, New Zealand is refusing to sell him the 300 to 400 litres he needs.  


Without it, his plane would be packed up and shipped to New Zealand, and the bill sent to Mr Johanson.  


After a visit to the New Zealand High Commissioner, Mr Downer spoke to PM 's Alexandra Kirk.  


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, I've asked them on this occasion if they'd be prepared to facilitate his return to civilisation, which in this case would be New Zealand. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And that means flying him out? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: They've said they will fly him out on Friday on a Hercules, on a C-130 and that the Americans will send his plane back by sea in January. 


I've said, well, his plane is there, it would be easier if you could just re-fuel his plane, it needs a bit of extra fuel, it needs 300 to 400 extra litres of fuel. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the New Zealanders are reluctant? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, they've been reluctant so far to provide the fuel, because what the New Zealanders and Americans and Antarctic parties try to discourage generally is adventurers in Antarctica, particularly if they don't know that these people are going to embark on an adventure, because otherwise scientists in particular, who are the people who live and work there, will have their work disrupted by search and rescue operations which can be extremely hazardous as you can imagine in Antarctica. 


So the policy is one of discouraging, obviously providing humanitarian assistance, he's being looked after, but discouraging these sorts of activities and that's why so far they've been reluctant to sell the fuel and instead have said they’ll pack the plane up and send it back by sea and fly him back on Friday. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And you'd like the New Zealanders to sell him the necessary fuel so he can fly out? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Look, I think in these circumstances, I know Jon Johanson, he's a good man, he's a very well known Australian adventurer, he's achieved many great feats, and in these circumstances I don't think it's asking too much for them to sell him the fuel. 


So I hope that that will be possible, but I can't guarantee that I can get the New Zealanders and the Americans to agree to that, but I hope I can. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: So they're not really interested at the moment? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: They are discussing, I think is the way to put it, and the New Zealand Foreign Minister is going to look into it during the course of the next couple of days. I am going to be in New Zealand myself on Friday, so I’ll follow it up further then. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what have you said to them in the hope that they will change their minds? That this is a one off or…? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: Yes, I wouldn't want them to change their policy, I wouldn't want them to change their policy in general terms, but in these circumstances, it's a very unfortunate set of circumstances.  


Jon Johanson did have a lot of fuel, it's not as though he's an inexperienced person. He's a highly experienced pilot. He ran into strong head winds as he was flying into Antarctica, turned around to go back to New Zealand, to Invercargill where he came from and came to the conclusion that it may be too risky to fly all that way so that's how he ended up landing at McMurdo Station.  


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And do you have some sympathy for the New Zealand position, that people should be discouraged from doing this sort of thing? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I have sympathy for both positions though to tell you the truth, and I’m the Australian Foreign Minister my responsibility is to do what I can for an Australian. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And there is no other source of fuel; is that correct? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: That's right. You know what Antarctica's like, there aren't a lot of places there where you can get fuel from, as you can imagine. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And there isn't anyway to get any Australian fuel to him? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: That would be terribly difficult because you would have to get the fuel down there presumably to McMurdo Station, that would be pretty hard to do. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: And what about the Americans, because it is an American-New Zealand base, but you've sought to speak to the New Zealanders. 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: We're also in the process of speaking to the Americans as well. 


ALEXANDRA KIRK: Are you hopeful that they will change their minds? 


ALEXANDER DOWNER: I don't know. I think they’ll… because I've made representations they’ll think long and hard about it. Well, I hope they do. 


MARK COLVIN: The Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, with Alexandra Kirk.