The long-awaited mission to rescue the ship stranded in Antaractica is finally underway.
The helicopter conveyed on the Chinese icebreaker Xue Long has ferried the first 12 people from the trapped ship to another icebreaker, Aurora Australis.
The helicopter landed next to the stranded ship, Akademik Shokalskiy, and the first two groups of passengers have been evacuated. The helicopter has nowreturned to pick up the third batch.
The 52 passengers were due to be airlifted in groups of five, with two additional flights scheduled to pick up the baggage, while the 22 crew members are to stay in the ship, which is not in danger, and wait for the ice to break up before heading back.
The initial plans to airlift the passengers to Xue Long were cancelled, and now the passengers are being taken to an ice floe near the Aurora Australis, stationed about two miles away from the Chinese ship.
Passengers will be then be taken in a small boat to the Aurora.
The latest development comes a day after the planned airlift was called off due to complications in an earlier two-step rescue operation.
"It's 100% we're off! A huge thanks to all," expedition leader Chris Turney tweeted from the stranded ship, which was carrying scientists, journalists and tourists on a scientific expedition to Antarctica.
An earlier rescue plan involved ferrying the passengers to Xue Long, and then transferring them to Aurora Australis on a barge. However the planned operation was hindered when sea ice blocked the barge from reaching Xue Long before the mission could even begin.
The Australian Maritime Safety Authority released a statement saying the safest option was to rescue the passengers in one operation.
"The preferred and safest option at this stage is to ultimately transfer the passengers onto Aurora Australis", AMSA said.
The Aurora Australis will carry the passengers to the island state of Tasmania. It will first travel to the Australian Casey base in Antarctica to refuel before continuing the journey back to Hobart, which might take several weeks.
The helicopter operation was cleared after repeated failed attempts by the icebreakers, Xue Long, Aurora Australis and L'Astrolabe to reach the stranded ship, either due to heavy build up of ice floes or snow and blizzard conditions.
Meanwhile, the passengers on the ship have made the best of their predicament by keeping the world updated about their adventurous and fun-filled activities onboard and on the ice field.