Argentina, Chile Conduct Combined Exercise in Antarctica

The annual exercise aims to prepare both nations for emergencies in areas far from Antarctic bases.
Juan Delgado/Diálogo | 2 October 2018

International Relations

Units of the Argentine and Chilean armies make up the rescue patrols in the northern Antarctic Peninsula for PARACACH 2018. (Photo: Argentine Antarctic Joint Command)

Argentine and Chilean armed forces spent 10 days on the northern Antarctic Peninsula in a combined rescue exercise. The Argentine-Chilean Combined Antarctic Emergency and Rescue Patrol 2018 (PARACACH 2018, in Spanish) integrated army elements of both countries to improve response capabilities in rescue emergencies in Antarctica, August 20th-30th.

Under the coordination of the Antarctic Joint Command of the Argentine Armed Forces’ Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Chilean Joint Chiefs of Staff, participants carried out Antarctic emergency operations, such as planning for search and rescue missions, navigation, injured recovery, and first-aid response. The patrol also walked over glaciers and frozen seas and coordinated radio communications.

“It’s a very enriching experience professionally,” Argentine Army Major Leonardo Martín Sakamoto, commander of the Esperanza Base in Argentine  Antarctica, told Diálogo. “Conducted on site in real time and under extreme conditions, the exercise adds great value to patrol training.”

The objective was to assess and increase military capabilities in Antarctic rescue operations. PARACACH 2018 also aimed at strengthening cooperation and bonds of friendship between both nations to face emergency situations in the inhospitable white continent.

“The main objective was to create a combined patrol team on a permanent basis to respond as soon as possible to an emergency call from any foreign base,” Maj. Sakamoto said. “It’s important to standardize techniques to rescue injured people who fall into deep crevasses and use special rescue equipment to recover the injured.”

A long trip

The patrol consisted of 14 members of both nations and 13 snowmobiles, each with sleds. Participants came from the Argentine Esperanza Base and the Chilean O’Higgins Base in Antarctica, both of which operate all year long.

“For the Chilean Armed Forces, conducting these exercises with Argentina is very important, so that we can standardize procedures that will allow for a quicker reaction,” said Chilean Army Captain René Salgado, commander of the Exploration and Rescue Section at O’Higgins Base. “We demonstrated the combined capabilities of rescue teams to act under extreme weather conditions at any time of the year.”

Under temperatures of -20º C and strong freezing winds, the patrol left the O’Higgins base and headed for Bahía Dusse, near Esperanza Base, to carry out the simulated rescue of a scientist injured from a fall into a deep crevasse. After traveling nearly 50 kilometers on glaciers and frozen waters, service members reached their objective with the support of a DHC-6 Twin Otter aircraft from the Argentine Marambio Base in Antarctica, which made a real-time air evacuation.

The combined patrol conducts a simulated operation to rescue a scientist trapped inside crevasses in Antarctica, as part of exercise PARACACH 2018. (Photo: Argentine Antarctic Joint Command)

The exercise concluded with a debriefing to share lessons learned and implement participants’ experiences, which will be passed down to future Antarctic personnel. “It turned out to be a successful exercise, showing the outstanding operational state of human and material resources,” Capt. Salgado said.

Antarctic challenges

Rescue operations are challenging in Antarctica, whether in response to an accident or the need to evacuate personnel or equipment. Local bases must manage and develop contingency plans in case of possible emergencies and conduct frequent training.

Considering their predominant role in the area, Argentina and Chile decided to join efforts and coordinate combined exercises between the Esperanza and O’Higgins bases. PARACACH was the fruit of these efforts.

Argentina and Chile carry out the annual exercise under the framework of bilateral agreements and the 2009 Maipú Treaty of Integration and Cooperation. The 2014 Joint Declaration of the Defense ministers of Chile and Argentina, which seeks closer cooperation in Antarctica, also supports the exercise.

Bonds of friendship

“First and foremost, there is a close relationship between the O’Higgins and Esperanza bases, made evident through the annual planning and execution of PARACACH,” Capt. Salgado said. “The Argentine Marambio Base also provides weather information, which is fundamental to carry out exploration.”

Units from O’Higgins and Esperanza bases will continue to conduct individual exercises and improve procedures to prepare for PARACACH 2019. An added benefit of the exercise is the better knowledge of the terrain gained in the northern area of the Antarctic Peninsula. 

“Carrying out PARACACH increases readiness and collaboration between both nations, so as to conduct rescue operations and exchange experiences,” Maj. Sakamoto said. “It strengthens ties of camaraderie between the Argentine and Chilean personnel to implement all the experience obtained.”

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