All passengers rescued from ice-bound ship in Antarctica
All 52 passengers on board a ship trapped in sea ice for nine days off the Antarctic coast were airlifted to safety in a five-hour operation yesterday.
A Chinese helicopter ferried the scientists and tourists from the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy to an Australian icebreaker.
The operation came after days in which blinding snow, strong winds, fog and thick sea ice forced rescuers to turn back time and again.
Three icebreakers were sent to try to break through the ice surrounding the ship, but all failed. The Aurora Australis came within 12 miles on Monday, but fierce winds and snow forced it to retreat to open water.
Yesterday, the passengers were shuttled off the ship and on to the helicopter in groups of seven or eight, with each journey taking up to 45 minutes.
The original plan had been to airlift the passengers to a Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, with a barge then ferrying them to the Aurora.
But sea ice prevented the barge from getting through. Instead, the passengers were flown to an ice floe next to the Aurora and then taken by a small boat to the Australian ship.
The 22 Russian crew aboard the Shokalskiy remained behind and will attempt to salvage their ship, which is trapped some 100 nautical miles east of a French Antarctic station, Dumont D'Urville, and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Tasmania. The Shokalskiy was two weeks into a four-week expedition to follow the path taken a century ago by the Australian explorer Douglas Mawson when it became trapped after being hit by a blizzard on Christmas Eve.
Chris Turney, the leader of the privately funded expedition, said: "I think everyone is relieved and excited to be going on to the Australian icebreaker and then home."
The passengers and crew of the Shokalskiy had never been in danger and had plentiful supplies of food and water. Scientists on board had even continued their experiments, measuring temperature and salinity through cracks in the surrounding ice.
One of the aims of the expedition was to track how quickly the Antarctic's sea ice was supposedly disappearing.
Mr Turney said that he had hoped to continue the trip if an icebreaker managed to free the ship.
Despite the disappointment over the expedition being cut short, spirits had remained high among the tourists and scientists.
"I'm a bit sad it has ended this way," Mr Turney said. "But we got lots and lots of great science done." (© Daily Telegraph, London)