SYDNEY -- A daredevil Australian pilot who flew his homemade plane over the South Pole last weekend has ignited a storm between Australia and its two closest allies -- the United States and New Zealand -- who are refusing to refuel his aircraft, which is stranded on an ice runway on the edge of Antarctica.
Pilot Jon Johanson's frosty reception was a result of a long-standing policy at some Antarctic research stations of refusing to sell fuel to adventurers.
"I'm not very optimistic about being able to persuade the New Zealanders and the Americans," Alexander Downer, Australia's foreign minister, said yesterday.
The US National Science Foundation and Antarctica New Zealand, both government-funded scientific research programs, do not "supply or stock fuel for private individuals," the US agency said in a statement e-mailed yesterday to the Associated Press.
"NSF's policy is that private expeditions should carry sufficient insurance to cover the costs of search and rescue efforts, if needed."
The foundation argues that rescuing adventurers and explorers who get stranded on the icy continent is expensive and endangers their staff.
Downer, who knows Johanson personally, tried to persuade US and New Zealand authorities to waive the rule this time, but they refused.
Australia is one of Washington's staunchest allies -- sending troops to fight alongside US soldiers in Afghanistan and Iraq -- and has a long and close relationship with neighboring New Zealand.
But those friendships do not extend to selling Johanson the 105 gallons of fuel he needs to fly back to New Zealand.
Instead, the US National Science Foundation said he could fly out -- as a passenger on board a scheduled supply flight -- and have his plane carried to New Zealand on a freight ship.
"I guess the officialdom is afraid to be seen to be helping in case the hordes come down and invade," Johanson told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio in a telephone interview.
Downer is due to meet his New Zealand counterpart, Phil Goff, for talks over the weekend, but Goff's office said the matter was in the hands of the country's Antarctica officials -- who have been scathing in their attacks on Johanson and his flight.