Aurora Australis: chartered flight departs to see the Southern Lights

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A special chartered flight took 134 passengers on a night-time tour to view the spectacular Southern Lights from the sky, and this is what they saw...

One-of-a-kind flight

One-of-a-kind flight
Witold Kaszkin/123RF

On Thursday evening, a special chartered flight took 134 passengers on an eight-hour journey to see the spectacular Southern Lights. The flight was a one-off, unique experience that allowed passengers to view the Aurora Australis from the sky, as the captivating lights are near impossible to see from land.

The Boeing 767 took off from Dunedin, New Zealand on Thursday evening and arrived back in time for breakfast on Friday morning. The expedition flew 60 degrees latitude south, two thirds of the way to the South Pole, coming very near to the Antarctic Circle.

Lesser known southern equivalent to the famous Aurora Borealis, the Aurora Australis occur when solar wind and charged particles from the sun interact with the Earth's magnetic atmosphere. Passengers described the view of the lights as "awesome", with a "spectacular display".

Dr. Ian Griffin, director of Otago Museum and organiser of the chartered flight, stressed that it was not as straightforward to plan as a normal flight: "Nobody has ever really done that before. This was a world first. People have done it in the northern hemisphere.

"The aurora doesn't just appear in specific locations, it can move around a bit, and we were trying to chase it across the Southern Ocean, which was quite fun."

Tickets cost NZ$4,000 (2,244) for an economy ticket and NZ$8,000 (5,000) for business class. But despite the high prices, all 134 spots on the plane were taken and organisers are hoping to repeat the trip in the coming months.

"I can't ever imagine another experience quite like it in my lifetime... sipping on champagne, eating a special aurora cupcake at 1am... as I welcomed the dawn of a new decade in my life, has to be up there with the very best life can offer," said Frith Walker, a passenger on the trip.

The Aurora Australis

Another passenger, Taichi Nakamura, also praised the experience: "It was so amazing to see the huge auroras very close during the successful mission."

"I thought it was absolutely brilliant, we were right under it," said Dr Griffin. "There were beautiful streamers, auroral streamers. This green-coloured stuff that moves quickly, it looks like you're looking into a green, streaky river."

The chartered flight is expected to repeat its trip in at some point before the end of 2017. Depending on its success, more could also be planned for 2018.

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