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Helicopter rescue mission for Antarctica ship delayed again

Andrew Peacock / AFP - Getty Images

This image taken by expedition doctor Andrew Peacock on December 31, 2013 shows passengers linking arms and stamping out a helicopter landing site on the ice near the MV Akademik Shokalskiy.

Pack ice conditions have foiled a helicopter mission Thursday to remove 52 passengers from a research ship stranded in Antarctica.

Three ice-breaking ships have failed to reach the MV Akademik Shokalkiy, which has been trapped in 10-foot-deep slabs of ice since Christmas Eve, and the chopper rescue was put off by bad weather.

Then on Wednesday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said conditions had improved, giving a helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long a 36-hour window for the operation.


But the helicopter would have had to land on the icebreaker, then transfer the passengers to a barge sent from the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis.

On Thursday, the authority said pack ice conditions prevented the barge from reaching the Xue Long. The authority said that the helicopter could not land on the Aurora Australis and or on the ice in its current condition, and the operation was not expected to take place Thursday. 

The helicopter had been expected to make seven trips — five to get the passengers in groups of 12 and two to retrieve luggage and equipment. Each return flight was to cover 12 nautical miles.

The crew of 22 planned to stay with the ship, which got stuck during the Australian Antarctic Expedition, a mission retracing the footsteps of Australian geologist Douglas Mawson, who explored the Antarctic 100 years ago.

Spirits on the ship, which was stocked with food and fuel for a 70-day voyage, have been high. In a YouTube video posted this week, passenger Janet Rice said the rescue would just be part of the "great adventure."