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Helicopter crew rescues ice-bound passengers

January 2, 2014  By The Associated Press

Jan. 2, 2014, Canberra, Aus. - A helicopter rescued all 52 passengers from a research ship that has been trapped in Antarctic ice since Christmas Eve after weather conditions finally cleared enough for the operation Thursday.

The Chinese helicopter carried the scientists and tourists from the
Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy in groups of 12 to an Australian
icebreaker, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue
Coordination Centre, which oversaw the rescue. The Aurora Australis will
now take the passengers to the Australian island state of Tasmania, a
journey expected to last two weeks.

"I think everyone is relieved and excited to be going on to the
Australian icebreaker and then home," expedition leader Chris Turney
told The Associated Press by satellite phone from the Antarctic.

All 22 crew members stayed with the icebound vessel, which is not in
danger of sinking and has weeks' worth of supplies on board. They will
wait until the ice that surrounds the ship breaks up.

The eagerly anticipated rescue came after days of failed attempts to
reach the vessel. Blinding snow, strong winds, fog and thick sea ice
forced rescuers to turn back time and again.


Three icebreakers were dispatched to try and crack their way through
the ice surrounding the ship, but all failed. The Aurora came within 20
kilometres (12 miles) of the ship Monday, but fierce winds and snow
forced it to retreat to open water.

On Thursday, it appeared the weather had thwarted yet another rescue
attempt. The helicopter was originally going to airlift the passengers
to the Chinese icebreaker on which the copter is based, with a barge
then ferrying the passengers to the Aurora. But sea ice prevented the
barge from reaching the Snow Dragon icebreaker, and the maritime
authority said the operation would have to be delayed.

A last-minute change in plans allowed the rescue to go ahead. The
passengers were instead flown to an ice floe next to the Aurora and then
taken by a small boat to the Australian ship, Turney said.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, which left New Zealand on Nov. 28, got stuck
after a blizzard pushed the sea ice around the ship, freezing it in
place about 2,700 kilometres (1,700 miles) south of Hobart, Tasmania.
The scientific team on board had been recreating Australian explorer
Douglas Mawson's 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica.

Turney had hoped to continue the trip if an icebreaker managed to free
the ship. Despite his disappointment over the expedition being cut
short, he said his spirits remained high.

"I'm a bit sad it's ended this way," he said. "But we got lots and lots of great science done."


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