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Bad weather thwarts rescue of stranded Antarctica ship

So far three icebreaker ships have tried and failed to reach the Russian research ship stranded amid Antarctic ice. Plan B will be evacuation by helicopter. NBC's Martin Fletcher reports.

Weather conditions thwarted efforts of a third rescue vessel attempting to approach a trapped research ship in Antarctica on Monday, officials reported.

Snow showers and high winds made it impossible for the Aurora Australis to approach the MV Akademic Shokalskiy, which has been stuck in multi-layered slabs of ice more than 10-feet deep since Christmas Eve, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

The Aurora made it within 10 nautical miles of the stranded ship before having to retreat, AMSA said.

The Aurora reached the general vicinity of the Akademic Shokalskiy early Monday (Sunday afternoon, Eastern Time) as the crew was encouraged by cracking ice surrounding the ship, leading crew members to make a light-hearted video they posted on Twitter: 

"Cracks are developing around the bow," expedition leader and University of New South Wales Professor Christopher Turney tweeted as the 74 scientists, tourists and crew members on board waited for the ice-breaker Aurora Australis to arrive.

At about 5 p.m. ET Sunday, Turney told NBC News that he expected the Aurora to reach them in "maybe a few hours."

But snow flurries hampered the visibility of the crew, forcing the ship to slow down, AMSA reported at 7 p.m. ET.

One of three rescue vessels involved in the mission, China's Snow Dragon, sent a helicopter Sunday over the Shokalskiy, a Russian-flagged ship, to assess the ice condition.

Andrew Peacock / www.footloosefotography.com via AFP - Getty Images

This image taken by passenger Andrew Peacock on Dec. 30, shows the ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy still stuck in the ice off East Antarctica, as it waits to be rescued.

"From the air, only a very tiny glint of the deep blue sea water is visible," Xinhua News Agency journalist Zhang Jiangzhong reported. "The whole area around was covered with ice.”

"The Russian ship is somewhat tilting on one side. Many people were standing on the area on the right of the ship, waving," the report continued. "After checking all sides of the ship, the helicopter returned. The captain considered that the ship and passengers are safe but the ice situation still extremely serious and still beyond the Snow Dragon's ice-breaking ability."

The Snow Dragon remained near the Shokalskiy on Monday, AMSA intended for the helicopter aboard the Snow Dragon to rescue the trapped passengers in the event that the Aurora Australis had to turn around.

But AMSA said Monday “it is also unsafe to attempt to launch the helicopter from the Chinese vessel,” due to the wind and snow.

The Aurora may make a second attempt to reach the Shokalskiy if weather conditions improve, AMSA said.

The Shokalskiy was trapped during the Australian Antarctic Expedition, a mission led by Turney  to retrace the footsteps of Australian geologist Douglas Mawson, who explored the Antarctic 100 years ago.

It left the port of Bluff, New Zealand on Dec. 8 and was stopped 100 nautical miles east of the French Antarctic base Dumont D’Urville. 

Spirits on the ship appeared high, with several members of the team posting video diaries on YouTube.

"We're all having a good time here. The morale on the boat's excellent," Nicole de Losa said in one, adding that there would be dancing and singing on the ice later.

NBC News' Eric Baculinao and Duncan Golestani contributed to this report.