The helicopter from the Snow Dragon has begun taking passengers from the stranded vessel
A Chinese helicopter has reached a Russian ship stranded in Antarctica for nine days and is beginning to pick up 52 passengers who spent Christmas and the New Year trapped in ice.
The helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon will take all the passengers from the ice-bound Akademik Shokalskiy and transfer them to an Australian Antarctic supply ship, the Aurora Australis.
Chris Turney, the leader of the private expedition, said conditions had improved enough to mount the rescue after days of blizzards, fog and shifting sea ice.
“The Chinese helicopter has arrived @ the Shokalskiy. It’s 100% we’re off! A huge thanks to all,” Mr Turney posted on Twitter.
Television pictures showed the helicopter checking out a makeshift landing pad on the ice and then picking up the first group of 12 passengers.
The Russian ship left New Zealand on 28 November to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.
It became trapped on 24 December, 100 nautical miles east of French Antarctic station Dumont D’Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania.
Everyone on board is believed to be in good condition and they were never in any great danger.
The Chinese ship got within sight of the Akademik Shokalskiy on Saturday, but turned back after failing to break through the ice, which was more than three metres thick in places.
Two other vessels, Australia’s Aurora Australis and a French ship, also tried to help but failed to reach the ship because of strong winds and heavy snow.