After being stuck in ice floes since Christmas Eve, the passengers of the Akademik Shokalskiy have finally been rescued.
A team of scientists and passengers aboard the expedition ship were in the Arctic doing research on climate change, recreating and updating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica. They were unable to leave when weather conditions became extreme and their ship got lodged in heavy ice.
Three separate rescue attempts were made by icebreaker ships, but due to blowing snow, strong winds, fog and thick sea ice they could not reach the stranded ship. The Aurora came within 20 kilometers (12 miles) of the ship Monday, however, it too was forced retreat to open water.
After the ship attempts failed, the maritime authority sent a helicopter to airlift the passengers and carry them to the Chinese icebreaker - the Snow Dragon, which would then move them to the Aurora barge. However the sea ice prevented the transfer and the operation had to be delayed once again.
The weather broke on Thursday giving the green light to go ahead with the helicopter rescue. The passengers were then flown 12 people at a time to an ice floe next to the Aurora and then taken by a small boat to the Australian ship Aurora, Expedition leader, Australian professor Chris Turney said.
Turney tweeted: "The Chinese helicopter has arrived @ the Shokalskiy. It's 100% we're off! A huge thanks to all."
The group of 52 scientists and tourists were flown to the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis in an operation that took more than four hours. 22 crew members will remain with the ship as they still have supplies and the ship is in no immediate danger.
Turney had hoped to continue the trip if an icebreaker managed to free the ship. Despite his disappointment over the expedition being cut short, he said his spirits remained high.
"I'm a bit sad it's ended this way," he said. "But we got lots and lots of great science done."
Image via YouTube