Rescue operations likely to start by helicopter for trapped passengers in Antarctica

Published on : Thursday, January 2, 2014

download-7Weather conditions in the area had improved and rescue operations were likely to start “shortly” by helicopter for the passengers who have been trapped on a ship off Antarctica for more than a week, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said at 7.30am (local time) on Thursday in a statement.

The operation was announced on Tuesday, but the weather conditions hamper the rescue effort until yesterday. This morning, the AMSA confirmed that wind in the area is down to 10 knots and visibility has improved. And it also said weather conditions are expected to remain favourable over the next 36 hours.

According to arrangements of the AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre (RCC Australia), a helicopter on board the nearby Chinese icebreaker Xue Long will be used to evacuate 52 of the 74 people who have been trapped on the Akademik Shokalskiy since Christmas Eve when it became stuck in deep pack ice.

And the ship’s 22 crew will remain on the vessel in the hope changing weather conditions will allow it get out of the ice field.

Under this operation, passengers will be collected from a makeshift landing pad they stomped into the ice near the ship. They will be flown out in groups of 12 to the Xue Long before being transferred via a barge to the Aurora Australis rescue icebreaker.

The Aurora Australis will then use its barge to transfer all 52 passengers on board their vessel. The barge can take up to 22 people at a time. The journey between the Xue Long and the Aurora Australis is a distance of about two nautical miles.

The Russian ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, built in Finland in 1982, is carrying a team of Australian scientists and other passengers to conduct scientific experiments. It is scheduled to return to New Zealand in January 2014. And it sent a distress call on Christmas Day after becoming trapped in heavy sea ice in Antarctic sea.

The decision was made to resort to a helicopter rescue after the Aurora Australis was forced to retreat in the face of freezing winds and snow showers. The Aurora Australis is the last ship in the area that will be able to help.

For the past days, two icebreakers, Chinese icebreaker Xue Long and French icebreaker Astrolabe, have already given up on efforts to push through the thick and dangerous ice floes to free the trapped ship.

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