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Helicopter rescue hope for ice ship

Passengers on board a research ship trapped in Antarctic ice for a week are pinning their hopes on a helicopter rescue after three icebreakers failed to reach the paralysed vessel.

The 74 scientists, tourists and crew on the Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy, which has been stuck since Christmas Eve, were hoping the Australian icebreaker Aurora Australis would be able to get through the thick ice and allow them to continue on their way.

The Aurora came within 12 miles of the ship yesterday, but fierce winds and snow forced it to retreat to open water.

Today the weather remained bleak and the crew on the Aurora said the vessel would also be at risk of getting stuck if it made another rescue attempt, said the Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

A helicopter on board a Chinese icebreaker, the Snow Dragon, will now be used to collect the passengers. The Snow Dragon, which is waiting with the Aurora at the edge of the ice pack, was also unable to crack through the ice, as was France's L'Astrolabe.

But the helicopter must wait for a break in the weather before it can attempt a rescue and conditions are not expected to improve before tomorrow, the maritime authority said. The passengers will be flown back to the Snow Dragon in groups of 12, and then by barge to the Aurora.

All 52 passengers will be evacuated, but the crew on the Akademik Shokalskiy will stay behind and wait for the ice to break up naturally, expedition spokesman Alvin Stone said.

A simple shift in the wind could free the ship. Winds from the east have been pounding the ship and pushing the ice around the vessel. A westerly wind would help break up the ice, Mr Stone said, but no one knows when the wind will change.

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