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Chinese icebreaker Xuelong returns from search mission

Reporter: Zhang Jun 丨 CCTV.com

04-15-2014 21:40 BJT

China’s ice-breaker, the Xue Long, has docked in Shanghai, after returning from a six-month Antarctic mission that also involved rescuing a stranded Russian ship and joining the search for the missing Malaysian aircraft in the south Indian Ocean.

 Crew members of Chinese research vessel and icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon) are greeted after return to Shanghai, east China, April 15, 2014. The icebreaker returned to Shanghai on Tuesday, concluding the country

Crew members of Chinese research vessel and icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon) are greeted after return to Shanghai, east China, April 15, 2014. The icebreaker returned to Shanghai on Tuesday, concluding the country's 160-day scientific expedition to Antarctica. (Xinhua/Pei Xin)

As the more than 200 expedition members disembarked from the Xue Long, they got a bigger-than-usual welcome. Although the vessel was only designed for scientific research, it evacuated passengers from the stranded Russian ship Academik Shokalskiy that got stuck in the Antarctic ice in January.

Three months later on its way back to China, it became the command ship for the Chinese vessels involved in the initial search for the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370. One commander says nobody was hurt on either mission, but it was still a difficult journey back home.

“When we joined the search for the missing Malaysian aircraft, we had been working aboard for more than 140 days.The crew members were tired. But we provided psychological and other forms of assistance to improve their condition. Eventually,87 of us worked by turns to accomplish the mission,” said Xu Ting, deputy team leader of 30th Antarctica Research Expedition.

And the earlier rescue of the Russian ship was challenging as well. The senior helicopter pilot on Xue Long says he ran into a situation that he had never expected.

“I have been flying helicopters in military service for more than 30 years. I am confident in my piloting skills. But the most difficult part of the rescue was to land the helicopter on a snow surface. To make it safe, I myself had to lay wooden boards on the snow,” captain of Sea Eagle Helicopter Jia Shuliang said.

Liu Shunlin (Front), head of China

Liu Shunlin (Front), head of China's 30th scientific expedition mission, waves after returning to Shanghai, east China, April 15, 2014. Chinese research vessel and icebreaker Xuelong (Snow Dragon) returned to Shanghai on Tuesday, concluding the country's 160-day scientific expedition to Antarctica. (Xinhua/Pei Xin)

This is the helicopter that rescued 52 passengers from the trapped Russian ship in early January. Polar researchers say China is planning to build a new vessel with greater ice-breaking capacity within two years. And they say it will also have a helicopter to allow both ships to conduct missions together.

“As we all know that Xue Long itself was trapped during the rescue because of its limited ice-breaking ability. The new ice-breaker that the country is designing will be capable of breaking 1 and a half-meter-thick ice. The two vessels will form a fleet. The new vessel will be in the lead to conduct major scientific missions and Xue Long will provide the necessary logistics behind it,” said Shen Quan, associate chief engineer of China Polar Research Institute.

Shen says that once the central government approves the construction, the new ship will be built on Shanghai’s Changxing Island. But the cost has not yet been determined. During this last expedition, a team aboard Xue Long set up China’s 4th Antarctic supply and research base. Next month, Xue Long will undergo maintenance before heading to the Arctic in July on a three-month mission.

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