Passengers Rescued From Antarctic Ice, After Ship Stuck For 10 Days

After being stranded in the Antarctic for 10 days, all 52 crew members trapped on a research ship stuck in Antarctic ice since Christmas Day were safely airlifted out Thursday, following four failed attempts to rescue them with international vessels. The ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, is part of the 2013-2014 Australasian Antarctic Expedition and is hosting scientists, two staff members from British newspaper the Guardian sent to document the journey, and paying members of the public acting as scientific assistants.

The rescue helicopter came from the deck of Chinese ice-breaking vessel Xue Long, which had tried twice to rescue them before, but had to turn back because of bad weather conditions.

As we reported earlier this week:

The expedition is led by climatologist Chris Turney of the University of New South Wales (his young son came along, too, which means his Christmas break story is going to beat everyone else’s), and it’s a centennial commemoration of Douglas Mawson’s voyage. The crew ... is repeating several of Mawson’s experiments to see how much the landscape has changed in a century.

The first attempt to rescue the crew, by Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon), meant to reach the team Friday, didn’t work out thanks to thick ice, and the helicopter on board was grounded by snow. A French ship stationed on the continent was thwarted due to weather. And an attempt by Australian icebreaking ship Aurora Australis was a bust: The ship got within 10 nautical miles of the entrapped vessel before having to turn back thanks to a blizzard yesterday.

“We’ve been so unfortunate – there was a massive breakout of very thick, old ice from the other side of the Mertz glacier, and it was swept to sea,” Turney said. “There’s just no way through it. Many of the icebreakers just can’t get through.

Now the drama's over: The helicopter from the Xue Long flew the crew to the Aurora Australis vessel. It took five 45-minute trips to deposit the groups of 12 on an ice flow near the Australian ship by 6 a.m. EST.

One of the Guardian journalists tweeted a thank-you to the Chinese and Australian rescuers. It was very British and humble.

Well, maybe the drama isn't quite over yet. Some climate-change deniers are pointing to the incident as "evidence" that global warming isn't actually happening.

Sigh. Well, this is much cheerier: a New Year's Day YouTube postcard from the stranded crew.

Intrepid Science on YouTube

(Image: Laurence Topham/Twitter)