On Christmas morning the Russian ship M V Akademik Shokalskiy sent out a distress call over radio after it was surrounded by sea ice in East Antarctica. Carrying 52 people, mostly researchers journalists and paying passengers, the ship was on a privately funded scientific mission, the Spirit of Mawson - Australasian Antarctic Expedition 2013-14 - to recreate the iconic (but later tragic) journey that Australian explorer Douglas Mawson made from 1911 to 1913. Driving snow, accompanied by high winds and impenetrable fog, had thwarted rescue attempts. Led by expedition leader Chris Turney, the expedition set out from Auckland on November 28, 2013 and made good progress until they hit heavy ice late on Christmas day. They would now need help to get out of the ice, and a Chinese ice-breaker, Xue Long or The Snow Dragon, set out on a rescue mission. A French ship was also pressed on a mission but both ships could not progress in heavy pack ice. An Australian rescue ship, the Aurora Australis, was then entrusted with the task of rescuing the marooned explorers. Extreme weather prevented the ship from carrying out the rescue or reaching the mired Akademik Shokalskiy. Scout helicopters were sent to assess the situation. The team waited it out, celebrated New Year's Eve aboard the ship, and then stomped on the ice in a group to create a suitable helipad. On January 2, a helicopter from Xue Long transported all 52 crew safely to the Aurora Australis.
Read a day-by-day account at the official blog of the expedition