CANBERRA, Jan. 2 (Xinhua) -- A helicopter from Chinese icebreaker Xue Long finally reached the Russian research ship stuck in sea ice in Antarctica at around 5 p.m. (local time) after several attempts were thwarted by severe weather, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported on Thursday.
ABC footage showed the rescue helicopter has reached the Russian ship and the rescue operation has started.
Expedition leader Chris Turney, who is on board the ship, Akademik Shokalskiy, said the 52 scientists and tourists aboard since Christmas Eve will be airlifted to safety.
Prof. Turney tweeted on Thursday afternoon: "The Chinese helicopter has arrived the Shokalskiy. It's 100 percent we're off! A huge thanks to all."
The rescue operation by helicopter from Xue Long was announced on Tuesday, but the weather conditions hampered the rescue effort until Wednesday.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) had initially said the rescue would go ahead on Thursday in a statement around 7: 30 a.m. (local time), but then announced around 1 p.m. (local time) that sea ice conditions would delay the mission.
According to arrangements of the AMSA's Rescue Coordination Center, a helicopter from the Xue Long will be used to evacuate 52 of the 74 people who have been trapped on the Akademik Shokalskiy since Christmas Eve when it became stuck in deep pack ice. The ship's 22 crew will remain on the vessel in the hope that changing weather conditions will allow it get out of the ice field.
Under this operation, passengers will be collected from a makeshift landing pad they stomped into the ice near the ship. They will be flown out in groups of 12 to the Xue Long before being transferred via a barge to the Aurora Australis rescue icebreaker.
The Aurora Australis will then use its barge to transfer all the 52 passengers on board their vessel. The barge can take up to 22 people at a time. The journey between the Xue Long and the Aurora Australis is a distance of about two nautical miles.
The Akademik Shokalskiy, built in Finland in 1982, is carrying a team of Australian scientists and other passengers to conduct scientific experiments. It is scheduled to return to New Zealand in January 2014. It sent a distress call on Christmas Day after becoming trapped in heavy sea ice in Antarctic sea.
The decision was made to resort to a helicopter rescue after the Aurora Australis was forced to retreat in the face of freezing winds and snow showers. The Aurora Australis is the last ship in the area that will be able to help. For the past days, two icebreakers, the Xue Long and the Astrolabe of France, have already given up on efforts to push through the thick and dangerous ice floes to free the trapped ship.
Photos >> Chinese icebreaker Xuelong enters area of Prydz Bay, Antarctica
Chinese helicopter to airlift passengers on stranded Russian ship in Antarctica
ABOARD XUELONG, Jan. 1 (Xinhua) -- Chinese helicopter Xueying (Snow Eagle) on board the icebreaker Xuelong has been prepared for the airlift of trapped passengers on a Russian vessel stuck in sea ice off Antarctica, Xueying captain Jia Shuliang told Xinhua on Wednesday.
"The crew members have been readied to transport the 52 scientists and tourists aboard MV Akademik Shokalskiy with their luggage to Xuelong in groups of 12," Jia said. Full story