Antarctic Ship Trapped in Ice: Helicopter Rescue Planned after Attempts by Icebreakers Fail

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By Gopi Chandra Kharel | December 31, 2013 6:30 PM EST

The hopes of 74 scientists, tourists and crew members of Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been left stranded in thick ice since Christmas eve in Antarctica, have been crushed after the last of the three icebreakers - that tried to free the vessel - had to return to open waters, after failing to cut through the dense pack of ice.

The first attempt was made by Chinese icebreaker Xue Long (Snow Dragon) which could not cut through the thick ice, and had to return after reaching 11 kilometers away from the stranded vessel, much to the dismay of everyone on board. Meanwhile, the thick ice and strong blizzard foiled the second attempt made by French vessel L'Astrolabe to rescue the scientific research ship, just as it did to the third and last attempt by Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis.

For Shokalskiy, a weeklong stay in the frozen waters off East Antarctica in the hope of rescuers coming and helping them have gone in vain. Now a helicopter on board the Snow Dragon will be used to collect the passengers, announced the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is co-coordinating the rescue plans.

The helicopter, however, cannot immediately move to rescue the Russian vessel as it has to wait for weather conditions to improve. Blizzards and snow, which have been foiling all attempts to rescue the ship so far, are expected to continue till Wednesday.

Chris Turney, one of the leaders of the expedition, twitted that the weather has been "shocking" and that they are waiting for it to clear out before being "helicoptered out".

Alok Jha, a Science Correspondent with the Guardian and is now on board the Shokalskiy, had said earlier in a tweet that it looks most likely that a helicopter is going to rescue them. "AAE members were just out helping stamp out a helipad on the ice," he said.

Meanwhile, scientists and tourists on board the research ship were having a nice time and were doing everything they can to make themselves busy, the CNN reported. People were posting YouTube videos earlier. While some were sending greetings to their loved ones, others were using it to inform people of the situation.

Turney and Jha have said that people were even staging activities like Yoga and Spanish classes, as many were trying to find ways to pass time until a rescue attempt becomes really successful. Some are still busy with their research work, they said.

The science team, led by Turney and Chris Fogwill, is well stocked with food and water, and the people are in no immediate danger.

The vessel, which is currently in the Australian Search and Rescue region, is carrying both tourists and scientists. The ship was following the track explored by Australia's Sir Douglas Mawson a century ago.

A website called 'Polar View', which monitors the satellite views of sea ice cover, glacier runoff, snow cover and so forth, tweeted earlier with an aerial satellite view showing the exact location where the Shokalskiy is stranded.

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