Akademik Shokalskiy Rescue Airlift Success

By Expeditions / 03 January 2014

Akademik Shokalskiy Rescue Airlift Success

A five-hour operation yesterday successfully airlifted 52 passengers and scientists from the ice-trapped Akademik Shokalskiy, which had been beset by ice since Christmas.

A five-hour operation yesterday successfully airlifted 52 passengers and scientists from the ice-trapped Akademik Shokalskiy, which had been beset by ice since Christmas. The helicopter from Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon flew from an improvised helipad on the ice next to Shokalskiy and over to another nearby the Australian Icebreaker Aurora Australis, which will now take passengers back to Tasmania after first making a resupply mission to Casey Station in Antarctica. 

Many of the scientists on board the expedition have said that it was an unusual amount of ice for that area - normally the wind direction blows the ice away from the continent. There is usually heavy ice further to the east, trapped between the Balleny Islands and the continent, but usually not so much around the Mertz Glacier/Commonwealth Bay. However, the breakoff of a very large iceberg in the area may have changed conditions the past few years and for the foreseeable future. 

Stewart Campbell from Expeditions Online said, 'There are always risks in expedition travel, but the Shokalskiy, her crew and the voyage organisers are all extremely experienced and 99 times out of 100 the ship would not have had issues in fulfilling the expedition itinerary. It was an unfortunate combination of circumstances with strong contrary wind and ice breakouts - an example of nature's power in Antarctica! People contemplating a trip a trip to Antarctica should certainly not be put off - the vast majority of cruises to Antarctica explore the Antarctic Peninsula area which has far lighter or zero sea ice coverage during the summer. Risks of being trapped in ice like this are really very minimal.'

Stewart was on a voyage on the icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov some 18 years ago which had assisted the French vessel Astrolabe (one of the three ships which recently came to the assistance of Shokalskiy) out of a similar situation. He added 'it is certainly not always tourist ships that need help!'

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