Helicopter rescue planned for passengers aboard antarctic ship

Dec. 31, 2013 at 1:46 PM
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SYDNEY, Dec. 31 (UPI) -- Passengers and crew of a scientific research ship trapped in antarctic ice for a week ice stayed upbeat, they said Tuesday, as they awaited a helicopter rescue.

The passengers, in a festive mood, are seen singing on videos they sent to the YouTube Internet service.

Icebreakers have been prevented by bad weather to penetrate ice holding the ship Russian MV Akademik Shokalskiy since Dec. 24 off the coast of Antarctica. The latest attempt, by the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis was suspended with the two ships only 10 nautical miles apart, CNN reported.

A helicopter aboard the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, or Snow Dragon, will attempt to land on the ice Wednesday and carry the 52 stranded passengers, 12 at a time, to the Xue Long. A barge will then carry them from the Chinese ship to the Australian ship, CNN added.

Fierce winds and snow, creating poor visibility, are expected to persist until at least Wednesday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said Tuesday, and are preventing the helicopter rescue from proceeding..

The decision to try an air rescue was made after the Snow Dragon and two other icebreakers -- the Aurora Australis and France's L'Astrolabe -- failed to break through antarctic ice up to 17 feet thick.

The Australis, driven back into open waters during a rescue attempt Monday, said Tuesday it risked "becoming beset by ice itself if it continued to make further rescue attempts," the maritime agency said.

An air rescue in any case "will be a complex operation involving a number of steps," the agency said.

The first step, which has already been completed, is marking a safe area on the ice for the helicopter to land.

The crew members are expected to remain with the stranded vessel and wait for the ice to break up, the maritime agency said.

If the air rescue fails for any reason, another option is the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker the Polar Star, which is speeding at full throttle to Antarctica from Seattle.

The newspaper has two reporters on the Shokalskiy.

The Polar Star could get to the sea-ice edge near the Shokalskiy in a week or so, the newspaper said.

It was not reported if the Shokalskiy was expected to have food for that long.

The Russian vessel is stuck in the ice at a small, steep rocky island near Cape de la Motte, about 115 miles east of the French antarctic scientific Dumont d'Urville Station, where the 2005 documentary "March of the Penguins" was filmed, and about 1,700 miles south of Hobart, Australia, the Tasmanian capital.

The ship was about two weeks into a month-long expedition to trace the steps of Australian geologist Douglas Mawson on the 102nd anniversary of his December 1911 Antarctic expedition during the southernmost continent's so-called heroic age of exploration.

The Shokalskiy has been at sea since Dec. 8, when it left Bluff, New Zealand's southernmost town, the same town Mawson left Dec. 2, 1911.

Mawson experienced a blizzard too.

The scientists and tourists sought to repeat and extend many of Mawson's wildlife and weather observations in the hope of building a picture of how parts of the Antarctic Circle have changed in the past century.

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