Passengers aboard an ice-bound cruise ship trapped off the coast of Antarctica cheered Friday night when they spotted the Chinese ice-breaker Snow Dragon on the horizon.
"There's a lot of relief among the team and a lot of happy faces," said expedition leader Chris Turney in a video posted on YouTube.
However, the jubilance was short-lived.
The Snow Dragon icebreaker came within 7 miles of the stranded ship but had to retreat after the ice became too thick, expedition spokesman Alvin Stone told the Associated Press. France's L'Astrolabe made it to the edge of the sea ice surrounding the ship, too, but also called off its mission for the same reason.
Turney, professor of climate change at the University of New South Wales, Australia, has been tweeting and blogging the adventure, and has become a minor celebrity of sorts. Using tools unimaginable to adventurers who explored the frozen continent a century ago, his reports recorded in howling blizzard winds show the enthusiasm and nonchalance of a real-life Indiana Jones.
A third rescue vessel, Australian Antarctic Division vessel Aurora Australis, may have a better chance because it has a higher ice-breaking rating.
Aurora Australis is expected to arrive on Sunday, said Lisa Martin, spokeswoman for the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, which is coordinating the rescue. The Snow Dragon will remain in the area in case its help is needed.
"I think we're probably looking at another 24 hours of twiddling our fingers and waiting for something to happen," said Stone.
Other options include bringing in ice-crushing vessels or airplanes or helicopters.
The ship, located about 1,500 nautical miles south of Hobart, Tasmania, became trapped Christmas Eve after a blizzard's whipping winds pushed sea ice around the vessel, freezing it in place. On Dec. 25, Turney tweeted "We're in the ice like the explorers of old! All are well and spirits are high. Happy Christmas."
The ship wasn't in danger of sinking, and there were ample supplies for the 74 scientists, tourists and crew on board. The trip, which left New Zealand on Nov. 28, is on a special research voyage to honor the 100th anniversary of famed Australian explorer Douglas Mawson.
The scientific team on board the vessel plan to continue their expedition after they are freed, Turney said. Passengers and crew have had to contend with blizzard conditions, including winds up to 40 miles per hour, but the weather had calmed considerably by Friday.
"The blizzard we had yesterday was quite extraordinary — it's not nice when you can feel the ship shaking," he said.
Despite the interruption to the expedition, the scientists have continued their research while stuck, counting birds in the area and drilling through the ice surrounding the ship to photograph sea life.