On April 10, 1961, Navy Cmdr. Loyd E. Newcomer became the first pilot to land in Antarctica during its winter darkness.
Newcomer, an aircraft carrier flight pilot who fought in World War II and the Korean War, did his second tour of duty with Operation Deep Freeze 61. When his squadron learned that Russian scientist Leonid Kuperov needed medical attention, they prepared to launch a mercy evacuation flight to an outpost on the frozen continent.
Despite bitter weather conditions, Newcomer flew a crew of 20 in a C-130 from Christchurch, New Zealand, to Byrd Station, Antarctica, using celestial navigation. The journey is considered so dangerous, by today’s standards, that all flights to Antarctica are still suspended between March and November. Newcomer Glacier was named in honor of this accomplishment.
“This mercy flight, in the face of diminishing daylight and increasingly vicious winter storms, breached the curtain of winter isolation for the first time. It will be long remembered as one of the great flights of Antarctic exploration,” wrote Rear Adm. David M. Tyree in a 1963 issue of National Geographic.
A recipient of the Distinguished Flying Cross, Newcomer retired from the Navy in 1962. He later worked as a flight instructor at Jefferson County Airport in Colorado, and as the chief research pilot at Boulder’s National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Newcomer died on Dec. 18 from respiratory failure. He was 85.