Antarctic Ship Rescue Poised to Finally Begin

74 scientists, tourists and crew have been trapped since Christmas Eve.

January 1, 2014, 4:23 PM

Jan. 1, 2014 — -- An attempt to rescue dozens of people aboard a research ship that has been trapped in Antarctic ice for over a week is set to begin today.

Wind in the area is down to 10 knots and visibility has improved, and it is believed it will remain favorable for the next 36 hours, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's Rescue Coordination Center.

The end of a period of high winds and snow storms will allow the evacuation soon of 52 passengers aboard the ice-bound MV Akademik Shokalskiy.

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

A total of 74 scientists, tourists and crew aboard the Akademik Shokalskiy, a Russian-crewed vessel touring the Antarctic, have been trapped in ice since Christmas Eve. The ship was retracing Sir Douglas Mawson's Antarctic expedition and conducting scientific research.

Attempts by three ice breakers to reach the ship have been foiled by the ice and raging storms.

A helicopter on board a Chinese icebreaker called the Snow Dragon will be used to ferry the 52 passengers to the Snow Dragon in groups of 12. Five flights will be needed to move the passengers along with another two flights to transfer luggage and equipment. According to AMSA, each return flight will take 45 minutes and will cover a distance of about 12 nautical miles.

The rescued passengers will then be transferred to another icebreaker, the Aurora Australis, which will be approximately 2 miles from the Snow Dragon.

The 22 crew members are expected to remain with the vessel, according to AMSA.

Passengers on the Akademik Shokalskiy have been passing the time by reading and watching movies, but everyone is taking the situation in stride.

Live footage emerged Tuesday of a group of the researchers aboard the ship ringing in the new year by singing a song about their experience and laughing.

"Happy New Year everyone from the Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2014! #spiritofmawson," the leader of the expedition, University of New South Wales Professor Chris Turney, posted on Twitter.

The ship's passengers are mostly made up of scientific researchers from Australia and New Zealand, in addition to some members of the public who signed up to accompany the scientists on a journey retracing the steps of the first exploration to Antarctica some 100 years ago.

ABC News' Colleen Curry and Ben Krolowit contributed to this report.

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