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Two support workers at the main United States research base in Antarctica died Wednesday in an accident at a generator building, the National Science Foundation said.
The victims were fire technicians employed by PAE, a contractor based in Arlington, Va., that provides logistical and technical support in Antarctica and elsewhere. The foundation, a federal agency that runs the United States program in Antarctica, did not make public information about the victims but said their next of kin had been notified.
Emails and phone calls to PAE on Thursday morning were not immediately returned.
The foundation said the workers had been doing routine maintenance on a fire-suppression system at the small structure near McMurdo Station on Ross Island in the Ross Sea. The generator it houses powers a radio transmitter.
A helicopter pilot flying over the building noticed smoke coming from it and landed nearby, the foundation said. The two people were found unconscious inside on the floor. One was dead at the scene; the other was flown to McMurdo’s medical clinic and was pronounced dead a short time later.
The foundation said the accident was being investigated.
McMurdo, which is about 2,500 miles south of Christchurch, New Zealand, and 850 miles from the South Pole, houses the largest number of people of any Antarctic base. About 1,000 researchers and support personnel live there this time of year, the Southern Hemisphere’s summer, and about one-quarter that number are there during winter.
Researchers come to McMurdo to study subjects like the effects of climate change on ocean currents and glaciers, changes to marine ecosystems, and penguin biology and behavior.
The station also serves as the logistics hub for the American research program, and has a harbor, runways and a helipad. It was established in 1955 on Hut Point Peninsula, where a British expedition led by the explorer Robert Falcon Scott built a hut in 1902.