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52 ship passengers stranded in the Antarctic airlifted to safety


A group of 52 scientists and tourists who had been stranded for more than week on an icebound ship in the Antarctic were airlifted to safety Thursday, Australian maritime authorities said.

Taking advantage of calmer winds and improved visibility, a Chinese helicopter landed on a floe near the stricken Akademik Shokalskiy and transported the passengers in groups of 12 to an Australian icebreaker, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Centre, which oversaw the operation.

“We've made it to the Aurora australis safe & sound. A huge thanks to the Chinese & @ausantarctic for all their hard work!” tweeted expedition leader Chris Turney.

The BBC's Andrew Luck-Baker, who was also on board the Russian ship, said passengers and crew members linked arms and stomped out a landing site in the snow for the helicopter, which is based on the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long. He described the 15-minute flight to the Aurora Australis as a "white-knuckle ride."

By Friday morning, the ship was headed to open water. It will take the 52 passengers to the Australian island state of Tasmania, a trip expected to take about two weeks.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, which left New Zealand on Nov. 28, had been retracing a 1911 expedition by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson. It got stuck on Christmas Eve, when a blizzard pushed ice around the ship about 1,700 miles south of Hobart, Tasmania.

The 22 crew members will stay with the ship and wait for the ice to break up, Australian maritime authorities said.

Twitter: @alexzavis

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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