Scientists Rescued in Antarctica

| Friday, 03 Jan. 2014


Many ironic similarities between this 100-year expedition and Ernest Shackleton 96 years ago

For people who think cruise expeditions are for light-weights, I suggest you Google the story of the famous English Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton. Amazingly, many people have not heard the tale of one of the hardiest men ever to face the rigors of the South Polar Region. Ironically, the recent story of the Russian scientists who were just rescued from an ice pack down below is very similar what happened to Shackleton in 1918 – the difference being that for the former English hero, and his men, it was a two year ordeal of extreme hardship.

I hate to give up the ending, but the challenges that Shackleton, his navigator and a few others faced in order to save his crew were beyond that bounds of human endurance – many times over.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, the ship with Russian scientists that was just stuck in the ice in the Ross Sea last week, was on a “100-year expedition,” to recreate and test conditions down there compared to how they were a century ago. In fact, they expected to find signs of global warming – instead they almost had the same fate as Shackleton did 96 years ago.

In the end, Shackleton’s men survived but his ship was crushed to pieces in the encroaching ice in the first few months. They had to walk out, but these modern-day Russians were lucky enough to have radio and a Chinese rescue ship with a helicopter within 20 miles.

The Chinese helicopter picked up the first passengers yesterday from the stranded Russian cruise ship, the Akademik Shokalskiy, stuck in Antarctic pack 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville, beginning a long delayed rescue mission started December 24th when the ship became trapped in solid ice. The ship has been stuck since December 24 with its crew of 22 and 52 passengers, many of them scientists.

The helicopter, from a nearby Chinese ship, the Xue Long, landed on the ice near the Russian ship, and then flew the passengers to an Australian icebreaker, the Aurora Australis. The Chinese crew members are staying with the ship.

“The Chinese helicopter has arrived @ the Shokalskiy. It's 100% we're off! A huge thanks to all,” said Professor Chris Turney, the head of the scientific mission on the Akademik Shokalskiy. Photos of the rescue effort were posted on Turney’s Twitter page, showing the Russian-built Kamov helicopter touching down on the ice next to the ship.

The Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA), the coordinating body for the rescue, said it had “received confirmation that the safe transfer of all passengers to the Aurora Australis has been completed.”

The rescue operation was expected to take at least five hours, but ended up taking less times, with least five helicopter flights required to ferry all the passengers from the Shokalskiy to the Xue Long, 10 nautical miles away.

The Shokalskiy’s crew of 22 will remain on board. Their fate remains to be seen. It is said they have plenty of supplies, but like Shackleton, who also ignored the advice of locals and set sail into what was described as a dangerous ice pack, this ship could also be crushed to pieces by the force of pack ice unless seasonal conditions change. Of course, January is the height of summer in Antarctica, but even this recent rescue mission had been put off earlier due to the weather conditions last week, according to AMSA.

This has been one of the coldest years on record around the world.  The agency described the ship, built by a Finnish shipyard for the Soviet Union in 1982 for polar research, as “fully ice-strengthened.” A team of scientists and tourists on the Akademik Shokalskiy had been retracing a famous Australian Antarctic Expedition from 101 years ago. Let’s just hope that further similarities to the Shackleton expedition do not ensue.

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