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At least one passenger shed tears of joy as others expressed relief and gratitude on Thursday after a helicopter whisked them off of an icebound Russian ship in Antarctica and delivered them onto an Australian icebreaker that will take them home.

The dramatic international rescue took about four hours and was made possible by a break in the weather, which since Christmas Eve had been too unforgiving to allow the distressed passengers to be freed. .

To help their rescuers Thursday, passengers joined arms and stomped out a makeshift landing site in the thick snow to allow the Chinese helicopter, based on the icebreaker Snow Dragon, to land.

It took five flights — four with a dozen passengers each, and a fifth with just four passengers — to take all 52 passengers off the Russian research vessel Akademik Shokalskiy.

All of the 22 members of the crew aboard the stuck ship were staying with the icebound ship.

After a 14-nautical mile flight, the chopper landed on an ice floe next to the Aurora Australias. Passengers walked single file through snow before boarding a small boat that ferried them to the Australian ship.

"I think everyone is relieved and excited to be going on to the Australian icebreaker and then home," expedition leader Chris Turney, speaking on a satellite phone from Antarctica, told The Associated Press.

The passengers aboard the Russian vessel were a scientific team attempting to recreate Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's 1911 to 1913 voyage to Antarctica.