Champagne on ice for Antarctica crew

Champagne on ice for Antarctica crew
The MV Akademik Shokalskiy is pictured stranded in ice in Antarctica, December 29, 2013.

SYDNEY - Passengers and crew aboard a Russian ship trapped for eight days in ice off Antarctica planned to ring in the New Year with dinner, drinks and song as they waited for a break in a blizzard to allow a Chinese helicopter to rescue them.

But they can't party too hard because the rescue could come at any minute.

The Akademik Shokalskiy, trapped since December 24 about 100 nautical miles east of a French Antarctic station, Dumont D'Urville, and about 1,500 nautical miles south of Tasmania, welcomes the New Year at 1100 GMT, two hours ahead of Sydney.

It was not possible to contact the ship immediately thanks to patchy communications in one of the coldest and remotest places on Earth, but the plan was for passengers to congregate in the bar and sing a song about their adventure.

Revelries were to be kept in check in case passengers and crew had to leave at any moment if the snow and wind cleared.

"Tonight's celebrations have been tempered by the knowledge that we will definitely be getting helicoptered off, basically at the earliest opportunity, once the weather improves," Andrew Peacock, the expedition's doctor, said by satellite telephone.

"The camaraderie has been great but it is all a bit of a shame for it to end this way. We know a lot of other people are working incredibly hard to get us out of here."

The ship left New Zealand on November 28 on a private expedition marking the 100th anniversary of an Antarctic journey led by famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.

A helicopter on board a nearby Chinese icebreaker was on standby after an Australian icebreaker on Monday failed to reach the ship, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) said on Tuesday.

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