Rescue workers help the cosmonauts out of the capsule after it landed on the Kazakh steppes on Saturday 16 March Nasa

A Russian Soyuz space capsule carrying three crew has landed safely in Kazakhstan after a 144-day mission to the International Space Station.

The probe landed close to its "bull's eye" target northeast of the town of Arkalyk on the Kazakh steppes at 7:06am local time (2.06am GMT), one day after its scheduled touchdown was delayed by bad weather.

Russian search and recovery teams were sent to locate the vessel amid freezing temperatures and poor visibility. Only two of 12 search and rescue helicopters had been able to land at the site due to the heavy fog.

Russian TV showed footage of rescue workers opening the hatch of the capsule, and helping Nasa astronaut Kevin Ford and Russian cosmonauts Oleg Novitskiy and Evgeny Tarelkin out via an exit slide.

Tarelkin pumped his fists as the three, wrapped in blue thermal blankets and seated on special chairs, gave the thumbs-up for cameras. The three crew had manned the $100bn (£66bn) outpost since October.

"The landing was energetic and exciting," Novitskiy told Russian TV. "The crew were feeling good, and everything seemed to be in order."

The crew were then transported to a nearby staging site, from where Ford will be flown to Houston, Texas, and the two Russians will be flown to Moscow.

Canadian Chris Hadfield took the helm at the space station earlier in the week, in preparation for the three men's departure.

Hadfield will head a three-man skeleton crew who will man the station until Nasa astronaut Chris Cassidy and cosmonauts Pavel Vinogradov and Alexander Misurkin arrive later this month.