TODAY   |  January 02, 2014

Stranded ship passengers rescued from Antarctic

Passengers aboard a Russian research ship that got stuck in thick ice off of Antarctica have been rescued by helicopter after icebreakers failed to free the ship. NBC’s Sara James reports.

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>>> there is breaking fuse from antarctica happening overnight to tell you ability. passengers on that research ship that have been trapped more than a week, airlifted to safety. we have been monitoring the rescue effort. sarah, good morning.

>> reporter: good morning, there was a holiday present for a group of arctic adventurers, there was a high flying to an icy drama, which had them trapped for more than a week.

>> reporter: it's 5:30 on the 2nd of january. if all goes well, we'll be off in about an hour's time.

>> reporter: it was a sound more welcome this new year's than the pop after a champagne cork.

>> the helicopters are coming to take us home.

>> thanks, everyone.

>> reporter: this helicopter, a chinese ship carrying the first dozen people from an ice bound russian vessel to meet an australian ice cutter. a massive complicated mission.

>> it's international the weather and ice all make it a very difficult operation to stitch together.

>> reporter: the rescue, a relief for 52 passengers stuck since christmas day .

>> as you can see, we are actually in the blizzard at the moment.

>> reporter: several ice cutters have tried and failed to plow through the thick shifting ice. so the passengers pounded that ice into a helipad as they belted out seasonal tunes. [ music playing ]

>> reporter: today, shifting ice nearly scuttled the mission again.

>> we will wait for conditions that will allow the rescue to be completed in a single operation to reduce unnecessary risks.

>> reporter: overnight, rescue teams opted to take advantage of clear skies and the passengers took off, homeward bound .

>> that said, the passengers aren't expected to arrive in australia and step foot on australian soil until mid-january. that's because the aurora next has to go to antarctica and resupply a base there. but they will get home before the crew of that russian ship. they are staying on that vessel stuck in the ice.

>> they may be there a while.