Helicopter rescue begins for passengers stuck in Antarctic ice

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The expedition leader said on Thursday a Chinese helicopter had reached Russian ship stranded in Antarctica ice for nine days and started picking up 52 passengers who spent Christmas and New Year trapped in ice.

The helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon would take all the passengers from the ice-bound Akademik Shokalskiy and transfer them to an Australian Antarctic supply ship.

The leader of the private expedition, Chris Turney, said that conditions had improved enough to mount the rescue after days of blizzards, fog and shifting sea ice.

“The Chinese helicopter has arrived at the Shokalskiy.

“It’s 100 per cent we are off! A huge thanks to all,’’ he said.

The television pictures showed the helicopter checking out a makeshift landing pad on the ice then apparently picking up the first group of 12 passengers.

It added that the Russian ship left New Zealand on Nov. 28, 2013 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

It became trapped on Dec. 24, 100 nautical miles east of French Antarctic station Dumont D’Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania.

It was reported that everyone on board was believed to be in good condition and they were never in any great danger.

The Chinese ship got within sight of the Akademik Shokalskiy on Saturday, but turned back after failing to break through the ice, which was more than three metres thick in some places.

Two other vessels, Australia’s Aurora Australis and a French flagged ship, also tried to help but failed to reach the ship because of strong wind and heavy snow.

Earlier on Thursday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue, had said the rescue had again been thwarted by ice and bad weather. (Reuters/NAN)

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