Better weather lifts hopes on Antarctic rescue
UPDATE: AFTER a night of watching and waiting, the necessary window of clear weather never opened but the 52 on board a research ship trapped in ice could be under way this morning.
In a morning update, Australian Maritime Safety Authority said the winds have slowed and good weather is expected to remain for 36 hours.
Helicopter to the rescue of stranded Antarctic passengers
THEY celebrated Christmas and New Year's Day surrounded by the unyielding ice of the Antarctic, but by this morning, 52 passengers aboard the stranded Akademik Shokalskiy could be on their way home.
A helicopter mission by Chinese ship, the Xue Long or Snow Dragon, was expected to begin overnight, ferrying the 52 from a flattened part of the nearby ice that will act as a makeshift helipad.
After the four or five flights needed to move the passengers onto the Snow Dragon, they will be dispatched to the waiting Aurora Australis ship by barge so their journey can resume.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority was told on New Year's Eve the Aurora would not be able to meet the ship without putting itself at risk. Open water is now up to 16 nautical miles away.
Plans are tentative, but Australasian Antarctic Expedition spokesman Alvin Stone said the Aurora would return to its unloading operation at Casey Station then would drop the scientists, tourists and media in Hobart by late January.
The rescue effort was expected to begin overnight, with the Snow Dragon's crews waiting for a break in the weather. Mr Stone said the temperature was a "quite balmy" 1.5 degrees.
If the Shokalskiy had not been stuck in the ice, those aboard would likely have been on dry land by January 6. The 20 crew on board the Shokalskiy will remain, with enough supplies to last the season.