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UPDATE: Bad Weather Thwarts Rescue Of Stranded Antarctica Ship

Weather conditions thwarted efforts of a third rescue vessel attempting to approach a trapped research ship in Antarctica on Monday, officials reported.

Snow showers and high winds made it impossible for the Aurora Australis to approach the MV Akademic Shokalskiy, which has been stuck in multi-layered slabs of ice more than 10-feet deep since Christmas Eve, according to the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA).

The Aurora made it within 10 nautical miles of the stranded ship before having to retreat, AMSA said.

The Aurora reached the general vicinity of the Akademic Shokalskiy early Monday (Sunday afternoon, Eastern Time) as the crew was encouraged by cracking ice surrounding the ship, leading crew members to make a light-hearted video they posted on Twitter:

"Cracks are developing around the bow," expedition leader and University of New South Wales Professor Christopher Turney tweeted as the 74 scientists, tourists and crew members on board waited for the ice-breaker Aurora Australis to arrive.

At about 5 p.m. ET Sunday, Turney told NBC News that he expected the Aurora to reach them in "maybe a few hours."

But snow flurries hampered the visibility of the crew, forcing the ship to slow down, AMSA reported at 7 p.m. ET.

One of three rescue vessels involved in the mission, China's Snow Dragon, sent a helicopter Sunday over the Shokalskiy, a Russian-flagged ship, to assess the ice condition.

"From the air, only a very tiny glint of the deep blue sea water is visible," Xinhua News Agency journalist Zhang Jiangzhong reported. "The whole area around was covered with ice.”

"The Russian ship is somewhat tilting on one side. Many people were standing on the area on the right of the ship, waving," the report continued. "After checking all sides of the ship, the helicopter returned. The captain considered that the ship and passengers are safe but the ice situation still extremely serious and still beyond the Snow Dragon's ice-breaking ability."

The Snow Dragon remained near the Shokalskiy on Monday, AMSA intended for the helicopter aboard the Snow Dragon to rescue the trapped passengers in the event that the Aurora Australis had to turn around.

But AMSA said Monday “it is also unsafe to attempt to launch the helicopter from the Chinese vessel,” due to the wind and snow.

The Aurora may make a second attempt to reach the Shokalskiy if weather conditions improve, AMSA said.

The Shokalskiy was trapped during the Australian Antarctic Expedition, a mission led by Turney to retrace the footsteps of Australian geologist Douglas Mawson, who explored the Antarctic 100 years ago.

It left the port of Bluff, New Zealand on Dec. 8 and was stopped 100 nautical miles east of the French Antarctic base Dumont D’Urville.

Spirits on the ship appeared high, with several members of the team posting video diaries on YouTube.

"We're all having a good time here. The morale on the boat's excellent," Nicole de Losa said in one, adding that there would be dancing and singing on the ice later.

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An Australian rescue vessel trying to reach a ship and its passengers trapped by ice in Antarctica was expected to arrive on Sunday evening local time (early Sunday morning Eastern Time), after early rescue efforts to break the ship free were stymied by thick “multi-layered” ice more than ten-feet deep.

The Australian ship is now the latest hope for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board the MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which became trapped in the ice on Christmas Eve while on a scientific expedition.

Previously, those abroad had set their hopes on the Snow Dragon, a Chinese ice-breaking ship and one of the three vessels originally tasked to the search and rescue mission, which had reached the area on Friday.

ut by Saturday morning Snow Dragon’s mission was put on hold because of the extreme conditions as the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) confirmed that the ship's progress had been halted.

Expedition leader and University of New South Wales Professor Christopher Turney has taken to social media to document the experience and continued to report that the stranded 74 were in good condition, but "still waiting."

The Shokalskiy was trapped during the Australian Antarctic Expedition, a mission led by Turney to retrace the footsteps of Australian geologist Douglas Mawson, who explored the Antarctic 100 years ago. It left the port of Bluff, New Zealand on Dec. 8 where it is due to return in January.

The Snow Dragon icebreaker came within seven miles of the Shokalskiy, which has been stuck since Christmas Eve, but had to retreat after the ice became too thick, expedition spokesman Alvin Stone told the Associated Press.

Turney told NBC News on Friday the Snow Dragon had encountered "multi-layered ice, two-plus meters thick (6.5 feet)," but with weather conditions now getting worse the ice was now said to be more than ten-feet deep.

“Unfortunately Snow Dragon can't get through,” Turney said in another post on his Twitter page. “It’s standing by & waiting on another vessel to help. Everyone well.”

AMSA confirmed in a statement that the Chinese ship would remain in the area to assist if necessary and that another icebreaker, a French-flagged ship, is no longer involved in the rescue.

The agency also said AMSA’s Rescue Coordination Centre Australia was “considering all available options.”

NBC's Martin Fletcher reported that a helicopter Snow Dragon had on deck could possibly ferry passengers aboard the ship, but currently the aircraft could not take off because of the snow.

Turney told NBC News that despite good morale on the ship, conditions had been challenging.

"When we first got stuck in the ice, we could see icebergs on the horizon, and that was disconcerting because you can only see 20 percent of them and they move not just in relation to the wind, but what the current is doing under the water," he said via satellite phone.

AMSA spokeswoman Andrea Hayward-Maher told NBC News on Tuesday: "It is a very remote location so it is not your everyday search-and-rescue mission."

The Shokalskiy is 100 nautical miles east of the French Antarctic base Dumont D’Urville. But all those aboard spent Christmas Day and the day after trapped inside the ice-locked ship.

Turney said the ice had enveloped the ship "very, very quickly."

"It's a classic misunderstanding, that this environment moves at glacial pace, and it's quite the reverse," he said.

The 233-foot-long Russian-flagged ship sent out a distress signal, which was picked up at 7:20 a.m. Australian Eastern Daylight Time (3:20 p.m. ET Tuesday) by the Falmouth Maritime Rescue Coordination Center, in the U.K.

As the ship is in the Australian search-and-rescue region, this message was passed on to AMSA, which alerted the Snow Dragon.


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