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Helicopter rescues all 52 passengers from stranded ship in Antarctica

Andrew Peacock / AFP - Getty Images

A helicopter picks up the first batch of passengers from the stranded Akademik Shokalskiy after more than a week of being trapped in the ice off Antarctica.

All 52 passengers who were stranded aboard an ice-locked ship in Antarctica for more than a week were rescued by helicopter early Thursday, officials said.

The Akademic Shokalskiy sent out a distress call on Christmas morning after it became surrounded by sea ice while on a scientific mission more than 1,700 miles south of Australia.

On Thursday, a helicopter from a Chinese ice-breaking ship Xue Long -- or Snow Dragon -- transported groups from a makeshift helipad which the passengers had stomped out in the ice near the ship.

The  Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) tweeted at 6.20 a.m. ET Thursday that all of the 52 passengers had been airlifted from the Akademik Shokalskiy and were now on board the Aurora Australis ice-breaker.

Rescuers were forced to turn to the helicopter after both the Snow Dragon and the Aurora Australis had to abandon attempts to smash their way to the Shokalskiy after encountering sea ice up to 12-feet thick.

The helicopter plan itself had been delayed for several days by high winds and fog. 

All 22 crew members on the Shokalskiy are expected to remain with the ship to wait for the sea ice to disperse.

Earlier, expedition leader Chris Turney told The Associated Press that they would be flown to an ice floe next to the Aurora Australis, and then taken by a small boat to the Australian ship.

"I think everyone is relieved and excited to be going on to the Australian icebreaker and then home," Turney added.

The Aurora will carry the passengers to the Australian island state of Tasmania, arriving by mid-January.

The Akademik Shokalskiy left New Zealand on Nov. 28. The scientific team on board had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica.

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