All of the 52 passengers aboard a ship that's been stranded in the Antarctic ice for the last week were safely transferred by helicopter to a nearby Australian icebreaking vessel on Thursday. The ship, Russian-flagged MV Akademik Shokalskiy became stuck in place on Christmas Eve, trapped by thicker-than-normal pack ice.
Passengers of the Akademik Shokalskiy stomp flat an area of ice next to their ship in readiness for helicopter evac pic.twitter.com/NtpircL8KP— Laurence Topham (@loztopham) December 31, 2013
The ice trapping the Russian vessel was so thick that two nearby icebreaking ships were unable to safely break through and come to its rescue. The Chinese Xue Long — the "Snow Dragon" — and the Australian Aurora Australis both abandoned attempts to approach the stranded ship through unusually dangerous conditions — risking becoming stuck in the ice themselves. Fortunately, Xue Long had a helicopter on board. With a safe landing spot, the Chinese could fly the stranded individuals from the Russian vessel to the Australian one, which had the needed room to accommodate the extra bodies on board.
The ship's passengers, a mix of tourists, journalists, and scientists, created a makeshift landing spot for the Chinese helicopter just before the New Year. Here's the helicopter, checking out their handy work.
According to Twitter updates from some of the ship's passengers, a marathon of bad weather gave way to a beautiful day for a rescue just after the new year, allowing the helicopter the five hours of good weather it needed to fly all 52 passengers from the Russian vessel to the Aurora Australis, which will return the group to the Australian state of Tasmania in mid-January. Scientist Chris Turney provided frequent updates before and after the rescue:
Finally, the passengers all made it safely to the ship that will, eventually, take them home. The ship's 22 crew members will remain on board the well-stocked ship until the ice breaks up, which could take quite awhile. Then, they'll attempt to free the Russian research ship from the ice and navigate it to safer waters. And they will all have to story they'll be telling in bars for the rest of their lives.