Chopper to rescue Illawarra academics

The icy adventure of two Wollongong academics aboard the research ship Akademik Shokalskiy stranded in the Antarctic, seems to be finally coming to an end.

There now seems to be some certainty for Illawarra-based Professor Chris Turney, University of Wollongong historian Ben Maddison and the other 72 passengers and crew on the Shokalskiy, after two separate icebreaker ships were forced to abandon their would-be rescue missions.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Co-ordination Centre yesterday announced that a helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long would be dispatched to pick up the 52 passengers from the Shokalskiy. 

The passengers will be flown back to the Xue Long, before being ferried across to the Australian ship Aurora Australis.

RAW VIDEO: Watch the icebreaker Aurora Australis at work as it tries to rescue the ship Akademik Shokalskiy, stuck in Antarctic sea ice.

The news comes almost a week after the ship became trapped by fast-moving ice on the coast of Antarctica on Christmas morning. Initial reports had the Shokalskiy just two miles from open ocean, with the Xue Long sent to break through the ice and free the ship.

Increasing sea ice forced the Xue Long to turn back for fear of being trapped itself, also leading to the subsequent failure of the Australis to clear a path.

"The sea ice distance has become even greater with the continued winds from the east, putting our nearest point of exit at some 16 nautical miles," said Professor Turney in a blog post on the Spirit of Mawson website.

"This ice is several years old and is considerably more difficult to break through by icebreaker."

AMSA said the Xue Long crew would wait until conditions eased before mounting their rescue attempt. Professor Turney said the area was being buffeted by winds in excess of 70 kilometres an hour, as well as freezing Antarctic temperatures.

The current location of the vessels involved. Courtesy Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

"This rescue will be a complex operation involving a number of steps and subject to factors such as weather," AMSA advised.

"The helicopter is unable to fly in the current weather conditions, and will hold off on the rescue until conditions improve."

While passengers will be taken off the ship, the 20-strong crew of the Shokalskiy will remain onboard. The Polar Star icebreaker, currently travelling to Sydney from Seattle, may join the effort to free the ship but is days away.

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