SYDNEY - All 52 passengers were airlifted Thursday from a Russian research vessel icebound in Antarctica and are safe on board an Australian supply ship, rescuers said.
"Aurora Australis has advised AMSA that the 52 passengers from the Akademik Shokalskiy are now on board," the Australian Maritime Safety Authority said.
Passengers were flown to the Australian ship in groups of 12 by a helicopter from a Chinese icebreaker.
The Akademik Shokalsky has been stuck in ice since December 24 100 nautical miles east of the French base Dumont d'Urville, with several icebreaking attempts failing to reach it.
After a number of false starts a helicopter evacuation of the research vessel's passengers began on Thursday evening, with official confirmation that it was underway reaching AMSA at 6.15pm Australian time (0715 GMT).
The Australian agency, which is coordinating the rescue mission, reported all passengers were safey on board the Aurora Australis -- an Australian government supply ship -- at 10.15pm, some four hours later.
Passengers were airlifted from a makeshift landing pad on the ice beside the Russian ship to an ice floe near the Australis.
Expedition leader Chris Turney expressed relief that the wait was finally over.
"We've made it to the Aurora Australis safe and sound. A huge thanks to the Chinese and the (government's) Australian Antarctic Division for all their hard work," Turney tweeted.