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Mawson expedition set to be stranded in Antarctic for new year after bad weather delays helicopter rescue

Wednesday January 1, 2014 - 00:22 EDT
ABC licensed image
The Akademik Shokalskiy has been stranded since Christmas Eve. - ABC licensed

Passengers and crew stranded on an Antarctic research ship are preparing to bring in the new year on the ice after a planned helicopter rescue had to be put on hold.

Bad weather is hampering plans to use a Chinese helicopter to rescue passengers and crew from the Russian-operated Akademik Shokalskiy, which is trapped in pack ice about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart.

The 74 people onboard the ship, which is retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's Antarctic expedition and conducting scientific research, have been trapped since Christmas Eve.

Russia had announced plans to send a helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long, also known as the Snow Dragon, to rescue them.

But the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) says bad weather has set in and there are no immediate plans to start the helicopter evacuation.

The Snow Dragon and an Australian icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, are on standby to make another rescue attempt if the weather eases, but AMSA says snow showers are continuing.

This morning expedition leader Professor Chris Turney said visibility had improved.

"Had a few hours sleep. Feel better. Good news: visibility improved to horizon. Wind moderate (20 knots)," he wrote on Twitter.

Speaking to 702 ABC Sydney later, he added: "Morale is holding up reasonably well considering the circumstances. We've got about nine or 10 days worth of food."

The Snow Dragon was the first icebreaker to be sent to rescue the ship, but was .

On Monday Aurora Australis made it to within 10 nautical miles of the stricken ship but was also .

Despite the delays, spirits remain high on the Akademik Shokalskiy and expedition members continue to post messages and videos online.

"It's blowing an absolute blizzard here, there's a total white-out, there's snow blowing everywhere and it's damn cold outside," said expedition member John Black in a video message posted yesterday.

"Everybody's fine on board... it's a fantastic adventure we're having."

Expedition spokesman Alvin Stone says the group is not worried about spending New Year's Eve on the ice.

"They've got a good two weeks of fresh food and if that runs out they've got another two weeks of dehydrated food, so I suspect New Year's Eve will still be a pretty good time," he said.


© ABC 2014

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