TODAY   |  December 27, 2013

Ship trapped in ice hours away from rescue

A Russian-built explorer ship that has been stuck in the icy waters of the Antarctic circle since Tuesday is finally in the sights of a rescue vessel. NBC’s Martin Fletcher reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>> story. the effort to rescue dozens of people stranded on a ship to antarctica. they have been there since tuesday and the first ice breaking vessel could be there today. martin is following that story from london. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, they're stuck in 6 to 9 feet of ice which is gripping the ship tight. the team leader told me that help is just on the horizon, at last. the best christmas present. the ship could be free soon as long as the wind doesn't pick up and this is the windiest place on earth. it's so far away you can't see it on camera but the dot across the packed ice is the snow dragon, the ice breaker . there's a lot of relief and happy faces. it's been a rough couple of days for the 52 scientists and volunteers and crew.

>> you can see we're in a blizzard at the moment. the vessel hasn't moved in the last two days.

>> reporter: they have been taking measurements probing 400 meters to the seabed. all went well until ice trapped them. christmas eve the captain sent a distress signal. three ice breakers sent out to help. a french one couldn't get through and an australian one is two days away . he couldn't help thinking of the famous explorer whose ship was crushed 100 years ago leading to the great escape. the long trek by crew across the antarctic. it's lonely out there but there's company and this morning the chinese rescue ship isn't far away .

>> what's that?

>> the ice breaker .

>> brilliant.

>> reporter: they tweeted the chinese ship was finally at heavy going. so it's a race to free the ship before the weather gets bad again. at least there's enough food on board for two weeks.

>> good sight with the penguins waddling about. martin fletcher , thank you very much.

>> thank you.