A helicopter from the Xue Long (Snow Dragon) Chinese
icebreaker unloads rescued passengers from the ice-bound
Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy, in East Antarctica.
REUTERS/Fairfax/Australian Antarctic Division
An Australian icebreaker with 52 passengers rescued from
a Russian ship trapped in Antarctic ice since Christmas Eve has
begun the long journey home.
"The passengers seem very glad to now be with us and they are
settling in to their new accommodation," Jason Mundy,
Australian Antarctic Division Acting Director who is on board
the ice breaker Aurora Australis, said.
A helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon ferried
the 52 scientists and tourists in small groups from the
ice-bound Akademik Shokalskiy and transferred them to the
Antarctic supply ship Aurora Australis late on Thursday.
The Aurora Australis is now sailing towards open water and
will then head towards an Antarctic base to complete a
resupply before returning to Australia.
Passengers, mostly Australians and New Zealanders, will
probably arrive in Australia's southern island state of
Tasmania around mid-January. The Russian crew on the Akademik
Shokalskiy will stay onboard until the ice breaks up and
frees the ship.
The rescue, repeatedly delayed due to weather and ice
conditions, kicked off late on Thursday afternoon and took
around five hours to complete.
Chris Turney, who led the private expedition, documented the
rescue mission from the stranded ship with regular posts
depicting videos and photographs.
"The first of the helicopters to take us home! Thanks
everyone!" Turney and another passenger said cheerfully in a
short video clip when the helicopter arrived to take the
first group of 12 people.
Photographs showed passengers bundled in heavy parka jackets,
snow goggles and hats, boarding a helicopter amid a backdrop
of snowdrifts and clear blue skies - a big change from the
cloud, howling gales and slow flurries that had prevented
earlier rescue attempts.
"We've made it to the Aurora Australis safe & sound,"
Turney said on Twitter late on Thursday.
Mundy said there were enough rooms on the Aurora Australis
for these passengers, and the ship can "look after them well
for the final part of their journey".
The Russian-owned research ship left New Zealand on Nov. 28
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
During their time on the ice, passengers amused themselves
with movies, classes in knot tying, languages, yoga and
photography, and rung in the New Year with dinner, drinks and
new song composed about their adventure.
The Chinese ship Snow Dragon got within sight of the Akademik
Shokalskiy on Saturday, but turned back after failing to
break through the ice, which was more than 3 metres (10 feet)
thick in some place.
The Aurora Australis and another French flagged ship also
tried to help but failed to reach the ship because of strong
winds and heavy snow.