CANBERRA, Australia – All 52 passengers rescued after being trapped for more than a week on an icebound Russian research ship in the Antarctic were aboard an Australian icebreaker slowly cracking through heavy sea ice today toward open water after their dramatic rescue by a Chinese helicopter.
A spot of clear weather allowed the multinational rescue operation after blinding snow, strong winds and thick sea ice forced rescuers to turn back time and again.
The twin-rotor helicopter – its red and yellow colors contrasting with the ice and snow – took seven hours to carry the scientists and tourists from the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy to an Australian icebreaker, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority’s Rescue Coordination Centre, which oversaw the rescue.
Earlier, the passengers had linked arms and stomped out a landing site in the snow next to the Russian ship for the helicopter, which is based on a Chinese icebreaker.
The rescue came after days of failed attempts to reach the vessel, which was trapped since Christmas Eve.
The icebreaker Aurora Australis is expected to reach open sea later today and take two weeks to bring the passengers to the Australian island state of Tasmania.
“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.
Sydney resident Joanne Sim, a paying passenger, wept as she boarded the Australian icebreakers. She said the passengers had spent their time watching movies and playing games.
“It really has been an emotional rollercoaster,” she told a reporter from the Sydney Morning Herald who is aboard the ship.
The 22 crew members of the Akademik Shokalskiy stayed with the icebound vessel, which is not in any danger and has enough supplies on board to last for weeks. They will wait until the ice that surrounds the ship breaks up.