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Helicopter rescue of ice-bound passengers on Antarctica research vessel begins

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Some 1,700 miles south of Australia, the Akademic Shokalskiy became surrounded by sea ice and sent a distress call on Christmas morning. After attempts by ice-breakers failed to reach them, helicopter rescues began on Thursday according to a Jan.2 report on NBC World News.

More than 50 passengers have been stranded for over a week while taking part in a scientific mission. The Chinese ice-breaking ship Xue Long or Snow Dragon is located about 11.5 miles from the Skokalskiy. Its helicopter began ferrying the passengers Thursday morning. Groups of twelve can be shuttled at a time and the whole operation is expected to take about five hours to complete.

Both the Snow Dragon and another ice-breaking vessel, the Aurora Australis, had made unsuccessful attempts to reach the stranded group by forcing their way through the 12-foot thick ice.

The passengers themselves stamped out the helicopter pad to make the landings possible. Rescue attempts by helicopter had been delayed by high winds and fog for several days. According to a statement by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, winds had calmed enough on Thursday morning for the rescue to begin.

The rescue will remove all 52 scientists and volunteers while thee 22-oerson crew will stay with the ship and await the dissipation of the ice. The passengers will be flown to an ice floe adjacent to the Aurora Australis where they will be transferred to a small boat that will carry them to the ship. From there, they will be transported to the Australian island of Tasmania and are expected to arrive there in mid-January.

The Akademik Shokalskiy departed from New Zealand back on Nov. 28. Its scientific mission was to recreate the 1911 to 1913 voyage undertaken by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

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