TODAY   |  December 31, 2013

Antarctic expedition may be rescued via helicopter

After failed attempts to rescue passengers on a ship trapped in thick ice off of Antarctica by sea, officials are now set to take to the skies, with a helicopter rescue. NBC’s Martin Fletcher reports.

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>>> plan in place this morning to rescue dozens of passenger who is have been stranded now for a week on a research ship in antarctica. martin fletcher has the latest on that. good morning.

>> reporter: good morning. well, they tried and failed for a week. ice breakers from three nations couldn't cut through the ice, ten feet thick. so today they called off the sea rescue and called in a chinese helicopter. singing to ring in the new year, passengers today started to prepare a landing strip for the rescue helicopter. their russian ship in an icy grip. winds up to 50 miles per hour packed the ice flow against the ship trapping it a week ago. but they still have to wait.

>> getting the team to stomp down on the snow and ice so the chinese helicopter from snow dragon can reach us when the weather improves.

>> reporter: there's been a blizzard for days and when the weather clears, they said the russian crew would stay behind to man the ship while all 52 passengers would be helicoptered out. they'll leave in groups of 12 and for now are on permanent stand by.

>> it's really the concept of hurry up and wait . everything must be ready to go.

>> reporter: earlier fierce winds and thick ice forced an australian ice breaker to be the third to give up. as for the trapped ship, all it takes to free it is a change in wind direction to push the ice away. but that can take weeks. after spending christmas stuck in the ice, it's going to be one heck of a new year tonight. but the passengers won't truly celebrate until they get out safely. erica?