Icebreaker rescue: 52 passengers lifted from the ice by Chinese helicopter

Relieved to be safe after 9 days trapped in ice, 52 passengers from the Australasian Antarctic expedition ship Akademik Shokalskiy were safely on board a rescue vessel today.

The passengers were put on the Aurora Australis after a four-hour helicopter rescue operation began described as “high risk”.

Many of the passengers from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition, which chartered the Russian ship, appeared relieved to be rescued.

The Chinese landed alongside the ship, lifting passengers, including expedition co-leaders Greg Mortimer and Chris Fogwill, a scientist from the University of NSW.

The rescued passengers were said to have eaten and are resting.

Hose, a scientist from Macquarie University, was quoted in The Sydney Morning saying: “The [Shokalskiy] passengers have been very grateful.”

Joanne Sim, a paying passenger from Sydney, told the paper: “It really has been an emotional roller coaster.” She said Shokalskiy passengers had occupied their days with a range of activities including movies and games.

The helicopter crew came from the Chinese ice-breaker Xue Long. The treacherous conditions were underscored when the Xue Long itself became trapped.

When the Russian icebreaker became trapped on Christmas Day, it sparked an international rescue operation. The Australian government interrupted a critical resupply of Casey base and send the Aurora Australis.

The official polar tourism industry body, the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators, has been monitoring the situation.