All 52 passengers trapped for more than a week on an icebound Russian research ship were rescued Thursday when a Chinese helicopter swooped in and plucked them from the Antarctic ice a dozen at a time.
The dramatic international rescue operation became possible once the weather cleared. Blinding snow, strong winds, fog and thick ice had forced rescuers to turn back time and again.
The twin-rotor helicopter carried 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 Center, which oversaw the rescue.
The passengers 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 ship, which became trapped on Christmas Eve.
The icebreaker Aurora Australis will take the passengers 1,700 miles north to the Australian island of Tasmania, a journey expected to last two weeks.
“I think everyone is relieved and excited to be going on to the Australian icebreaker and then home,” expedition leader Chris Turney said by satellite phone.
The Akademik Shokalskiy’s 22 crew members stayed with the ship, which has weeks’ worth of supplies. They will wait for the ice to break up.
Researchers onboard had been re-creating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson’s 1911-13 voyage to Antarctica.