Ice-bound passengers rescued from Antarctic: Helicopter picks up all 52 passengers aboard Akademik Shokalskiy

The helicopter from nearby Chinese icebreaker has now reportedly shuttled all 52 scientists and tourists to safety

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The Independent Online

The mission to rescue passengers trapped on board a research ship stuck in the Antarctic ice finally got underway today, and all 52 scientist and tourists have now been evacuated.

At around 8pm local time (7am GMT) a helicopter from the nearby Chinese icebreaker Xue Long successfully made its first landing on a makeshift helipad marked out in the ice.

After a team of experts disembarked to assess the situation, passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy were shuttled away to safety. Though the plan had initially been to take them on board the Xue Long first and then transfer them by barge to another icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, they have now been dropped off straight on an ice floe nearer that ship.

The leader of the expedition, Chris Turney, posted a video (below) to his Twitter account showing the helicopter touching down to land for the first evacuations.

It took five trips to get all 52 passengers to safety, with a further two planned to retrieve their luggage. It is understood that the ship's 22 crew members will remain with it until it can be freed from the ice.

"The Chinese helicopter has arrived @ the Shokalskiy," Mr Turney wrote earlier today. "It's 100 per cent we're off! A huge thanks to all."

The Akademik Shokalskiy has been stuck in the ice since Christmas Eve, with attempts to reach the researchers by boat repeatedly foiled.

Mr Turney said conditions had improved enough to mount the rescue after days of blizzards, fog and shifting sea ice.

The Russian ship left New Zealand on 28 November in a trip to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

It became trapped a few miles from the Antarctic coast, 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.

The Chinese ship got within sight of the Akademik Shokalskiy on Saturday, but turned back after failing to break through the ice, and two other vessels, Australia's Aurora Australis and a French flagged ship, also tried to help but failed.