(Recasts with rescue, adds details, comments)
By Maggie Lu Yueyang
SYDNEY, Jan 2 (Reuters) - A rescue effort to remove 52 passengers on board a research ship that had been trapped in Antarctica ice for nine days was successful, and they were evacuated safely by helicopter, the expedition leader said on Thursday.
A helicopter from the Chinese icebreaker Snow Dragon ferried the passengers in small groups several times from the ice-bound ship, Akademik Shokalskiy, and transferred them to an Australian Antarctic supply ship, the Aurora Australis.
Chris Turney, who led the private expedition, said conditions at sea had improved enough to mount the rescue, following days of blizzards, fog and shifting sea ice.
“We’ve made it to the Aurora Australis safe & sound,” Turney said on Twitter.
Turney documented the rescue mission from the stranded ship with regular posts depicting videos and photographs.
The ship’s 22 crew members planned to stay with the well-stocked vessel until it was freed from the ice, the New York Times reported.
Television pictures showed the helicopter checking out a makeshift landing zone near the marooned ship, before picking up the first group of 12 passengers.
Turney posted a short video clip of a second helicopter taking off. His seven photographs showed passengers bundled in heavy parka jackets, snow goggles and hats, boarding a helicopter amid a backdrop of snowdrifts and clear blue skies.
The Russian-owned research ship left New Zealand on Nov. 28 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.
It became trapped on Dec. 24, 100 nautical miles east of French Antarctic station Dumont D‘Urville and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania.
Everyone on board was believed to be in good condition and weren’t in any immediate danger on the ship.
The Chinese ship got within sight of the Akademik Shokalskiy on Saturday, but turned back after failing to break through the ice, which was more than 3 metres (10 feet) thick in some place.
Two other vessels, Australia’s Aurora Australis and a French flagged ship, also tried to help but failed to reach the ship because of strong wind and heavy snow.
Earlier on Thursday, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority which is coordinating the rescue, had said the rescue had again been thwarted by ice and bad weather. (Additional reporting by Lincoln Feast in Sydney and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel and Bernadette Baum)