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Planning ... Aurora australis flight winner Tilly King (14) discusses with Damien McNamara how to use a lens shield to take photos from the plane window during their forthcoming trip. PHOTO: SALLY BROOKER

Tilly King is the envy of people the world over.

The year 10 Waitaki Girls’ High School pupil is about to fly to the Antarctic circle to view the aurora australis.

She won the free trip offered by Oamaru astrophotographer Damien McNamara at the end of last year.

Mr McNamara went on the first such flight organised by Otago Museum director and former NASA Space Telescope Science Institute public outreach head Ian Griffin a year ago.

When Dr Griffin organised a second flight, to leave Christchurch at 6pm on March 22, Mr McNamara snapped up tickets.

They were available only in pairs, so he called for nominations for worthy recipients at local high schools for the second ticket.

“They’ve got to be doing well at school, preferably in art, photography or science. They’ve got to benefit from the flight. They might be going to university, or they might be heading into a job in the science or arts field,” he told the Oamaru Mail when calling for nominations from teachers and parents.

“It’s just about giving back. Hopefully, I can encourage another student to do what I’ve done.

“I know we didn’t go to Antarctica, but we were within the Antarctic airspace. We got to see an aurora and we got to fly through an aurora.

“For a student, it might be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

Tilly expected it to be.

She was nominated by her mother, Liz King, who is also a teacher.

Choosing the recipient was “not the easiest decision”, Mr McNamara said. There were initially eight nominees, but one pulled out. Of the remaining seven, “Tilly just shone out”.

“She ticked all the boxes.”

As well as being available to go on the required dates and having no health concerns about withstanding the 12-hour flight, she studies art at school and is a keen photographer. Tilly has already had images accepted for two of the annual Otago Wildlife Photography Competitions.

Mr McNamara has been tutoring her on the specific techniques needed to capture images of the aurora from inside the plane.

Only the rows of seats next to the windows were sold, so no-one missed out on the view.

“The aurora will be happening. There’s apparently no chance of the flight being cancelled.”

If it could not go ahead at the appointed time, it would be rescheduled.

This year’s flight was heading closer to Antarctica than last year’s. The 2017 expedition went to the latitude of 66deg, whereas this time the plane would target 71deg.

“That should be over the coast of Antarctica,” Mr McNamara said.

He and Tilly were due back in Christchurch at 6am on March 23.