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Help on the Way for Icebound Scientists

After two weeks of being icebound in the Antarctic, the 107 people on board the research ship Magdalena Odlendorff have reason for hope as two rescue ships near the stranded vessel.

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A world of ice: The research ship Magdalena Oldendorff has been trapped in Antarctic ice since June 11.

Help is near for the 107 people on board the Antarctic research ship Magdalena Oldendorff, which has been icebound 1 500 miles (2 414 km) from the South Pole since June 11.

A rescue ship with two military helicopters is underway from Cape Town, South Africa. Additionally, the Argentinian icebreaker Almirante Irizar embarked on Tuesday from Buenos Aires. It is expected to reach the site where the ship is trapped between July 6 and July 9.

Experts believe that the unpredictable Antarctic winter and the perpetual darkness at this time of year will make rescue efforts difficult.

A Merciless Climate

"It is a very harsh part of the world down there," Gerald Hagemann, who is in charge of the rescue of the German-owned Magdalena Oldendorff, told ABC News. "Unless you are in a protected environment aboard a ship or in the right gear, your chances of survival are practically zero."

The climate knows no mercy. Wind speeds are currently at 30 miles an hour and the temperature is at -7 degrees Fahrenheit (-21 Celsius). Sunlight won't been seen in the region until late July.

An Unprecedented Plan

Der argentinische Eisbrecher Almirante Irizar will die Magdalena Oldendorff befreien

Crewmembers of the Almirante Irizar wave farewell as they set sail before dawn Tuesday, June 25, 2002, on a voyage to Antarctica to rescue the German ship trapped amid ice.

If all goes well, the Almirante Irizar (photo) will break a groove through the forty miles of ice separating the stranded ship from the safety of the Atlantic Ocean.

The icebreaker's captain Raul Benmuyal understands he might have to improvise. "The mission is very complex." It's unprecedented and there are no guidelines for it, the Argentinian told the press.

Should harsh winds and ice intervene, Benmuyal said he will switch to plan B. The icebraker will take two military helicopters on board the 15 000 ton ship along the way. The rescue helicopters can fly back and forth to bring the stranded scientists to safety.

This might also prove tricky. "Any nighttime flying is a risky operation, especially in these harsh conditions with that cold," said Hagemann.

Toughing it Out in the Cold

Meanwhile, the mood on board the Magdalena Oldendorff is "a little bit depressed, but everything is OK," the ship’s captain Ewald Brune told Hagemann via satelite phone.

The mostly German crew of 28 had picked up 71 Russian scientists from a research station on the Antarctic mainland, before storms blew it off course trapped it in the ice field, from which the 173-meter vessel couldn't escape.

Although food supplies are expected to last for a month, the crew has already started to ration food and water, since they don't trust the changing weather.

Given the unpredictable climate, there is a risk that the rescue ship could itself get caught in ice. The Argentinian polar scientist Manuel Picasso warned that in such a case, the Almirante Irizar may have to remain in the Antarctic until September or October. Luckily, the scientists won't be there with it.