Chopper to rescue ice-stranded scientists

A crew member of the Akademik Shokalskiy walks on the snow-covered aft deck of the stranded ship in the Antarctic. REUTERS/Andrew Peacock
A crew member of the Akademik Shokalskiy walks on the snow-covered aft deck of the stranded ship in the Antarctic. REUTERS/Andrew Peacock
Passengers marooned on a research ship stuck in Antarctic sea ice - including an Otago woman - will be rescued by helicopter when the weather improves.

The 52 passengers, including six New Zealanders, requiring retrieval from the Akademik Shokalskiy - which is wedged in ice about 3000km southwest of Bluff - will be evacuated by a helicopter from a Chinese vessel that had previously made an unsuccessful attempt to get to the paralysed ship. 

The Russian research vessel set out from Bluff on December 8. The New Zealanders on board include ornithologist Kerry-Jayne Wilson, University of Auckland doctoral student Colin Tan, historians John and Barbara Tucker, and Omakau-raised chef Nicole Kerr.

While several icebreakers have attempted to hack their way to the vessel, only the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis has come close.

However, the ship was forced to abandon its rescue attempt yesterday due to thick ice and poor weather conditions.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue, confirmed a helicopter on board a Chinese icebreaker, Xue Long, would be used to collect 52 passengers.

In total, 74 people are on board the Akademik Shokalskiy, however the ship's crew are planing to stay behind and wait for the ice to break up naturally.

In a blog post earlier today, expedition leader Professor Chris Turney described the past week as "sobering'.

"At the time we were initially caught by the sea ice, the Shokalskiy was just 2 to 4 nautical miles from open water.

"Now the sea ice distance has become even greater with the continued winds from the east, putting our nearest point of exit at some 16 nautical miles."

The moral remained good on board the Shokalskiy, everyone was working hard to support one another and the science programme was continuing as best it could, he wrote.

The Akademik Shokalskiy was retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's 1911 Antarctic expedition when it became trapped. The expedition is being led by scientists from the University of New South Wales.

 

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