Helicopter rescue begins for passengers stuck in Antarctic ice

A Chinese helicopter has reached aRussian ship stranded in Antarctica for nine days and isbeginning to pick up 52 passengers who spent Christmas and theNew Year trapped in ice, the expedition leader said on Thursday.

The helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon willtake all the passengers from the ice-bound Akademik Shokalskiyand transfer them to an Australian Antarctic supply ship, theAurora Australis.

Chris Turney, the leader of the private expedition, said conditions had improved enough to mount the rescue after days ofblizzards, fog and shifting sea ice.

"The Chinese helicopter has arrived @ the Shokalskiy. It's100% we're off! A huge thanks to all," Turney posted on Twitter.

Television pictures showed the helicopter checking out amakeshift landing pad on the ice then apparently picking up thefirst group of 12 passengers.

The Russian ship left New Zealand on Nov. 28 to commemoratethe 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famedAustralian explorer Douglas Mawson.

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