Passengers aboard the Russian research ship stranded in Antarctica have been successfully rescued. The rescue mission had stalled a number of times due to inclement weather and thick pack ice.
A Chinese helicopter has taken all 52 passengers stranded aboard the MV Akademik Shokalski and flown them to an Australian supply ship, rescuers said on Thursday.
"Aurora Australis has advised AMSA [The Australian Maritime Safety Authority] that all 52 passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy are now on board," the authority said via a statement on Twitter.
A helicopter flew the evacuees in groups of 12 to the Australian supply vessel.
"I think everyone is relieved and excited to be going to the Australian icebreaker and then home," Turney told the Associated Press news agency via satellite telephone from the stranded vessel during the evacuation.
Earlier on Thursday, Turney said on Twitter that “the Chinese helicopter has arrived at the Shokalskiy. It's 100 percent we're off! A huge thanks to all."
Turney's entry also showed a video of a red helicopter flown in from the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long touching down on a makeshift landing pad on the ice beside the Russian research ship, Akademik Shokalskiy.
The Australian agency reported all passengers were safely on board the Australis, four hours after the evacuation got underway.
Expedition leader, Chris Turney wrote on Twitter of his relief the wait was finally over.
"We've made it to the Aurora Australis safe and sound. A huge thanks to the Chinese and the (government's) Australian Antarctic Division for all their hard work."
The ship has been unable to move since it became wedged in Antarctic pack ice on December 24.
The 22 crew members are expected to stay on board the ship, which is not in danger, and which has weeks' worth of supplies on board.
It's likely to take more than a week for the Australis to dock in Tasmania with the returning passengers, as the ship must travel via Australia's Casey Antarctic base first to refuel.
Three icebreakers - one Australian, one Chinese and one French - were sent to attempt to break through the ice surrounding the vessel but each of their direct rescue efforts had to be abandoned because of inclement weather and thick ice.
The trip was undertaken to mark the 100th anniversary of Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's return from a three-year Antarctic expedition.
jlw/msh (AFP, AP, Reuters)