Akademik Shokalskiy passengers rescued from Antarctic ice

It's a good-news story nine days in the making: all 52 passengers on a Russian ship stuck in the Antarctic ice since Christmas Eve have been rescued.

The Akademik Shokalskiy had been marking the 100th anniversary of Sir Douglas Mawson's Antarctic expedition by retracing the explorer's famous journey when it got stuck in the heavy pack ice. Poor weather thwarted all air- and sea-rescue attempts for days.

Passengers and crew killed time (and exhibited high spirits) by playing games, watching movies — and singing about their ordeal.

On Thursday, however, thanks to calmer winds and improved visibility, a Chinese helicopter was finally able to reach the ship and fly each of the scientists and tourists aboard to Aurora Australis, an Australian icebreaker, in a four-hour rescue operation that took five trips.

Everyone is believed to be in good condition.

"I think everyone is relieved and excited to be going on to the Australian icebreaker and then home," expedition leader Chris Turney told the Associated Press by satellite phone from the Antarctic.

Turney tweeted his thanks for the hard work involved in the mission:

Akademik Shokalskiy's 22 Russian crew members stayed with the ship, which is not in danger of sinking. They have weeks' worth of supplies on board and will wait until the ice surrounding their ship breaks up.

"I'm a bit sad it's ended this way," Turney admitted. "But we got lots and lots of great science done."

Polar Star, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, is seen in a handout photo taken in Antarctica April 4, 1999. The United States is sending the Polar Star to help free Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy and... more 
Polar Star, the U.S. Coast Guard icebreaker, is seen in a handout photo taken in Antarctica April 4, 1999. The United States is sending the Polar Star to help free Russian ship Akademik Shokalskiy and Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon gripped by Antarctic ice, the Coast Guard said on January 4, 2013. The Polar Star is responding to a request for assistance from Australian authorities as well as from the Russian and Chinese governments, it said in a statement. (REUTERS/U.S. Coast Guard/Handout via Reuters) less 
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Reuters | Photo By US COAST GUARD / REUTERS
Sat, 4 Jan, 2014 4:45 PM EST