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Last Updated: Sunday, 25 November 2007, 11:14 GMT
Shipwreck tourists flown to Chile
Shipwrecked tourists arrive in mainland Chile
The tourists had nothing but the clothes they were wearing
About half of the tourists and crew who were shipwrecked in the Antarctic this week have arrived in mainland Chile on a military transport plane.

The Chilean air force Hercules flew the group from their refuge on King George Island to the city of Punta Arenas.

The flight had been delayed by bad weather but a second plane is now on its way to complete the airlift.

The 154 tourists and crew had taken to lifeboats after their ship hit an iceberg on Friday and later sank.

The first Hercules flight arrived in Punta Arenas at about 2230 GMT carrying 77 of those rescued from the Explorer.

Some passengers whooped for joy and punched the air in relief as they stepped off the plane, the BBC's Gideon Long in Punta Arenas reports.

There was no panic at all and no injuries - everybody is perfect, no bruises, no scratches
Gillian Plant, passenger

"I feel wonderful, very pleased to be alive," Danish tourist Jan Henkel, 42, who proposed to his girlfriend Mette Larsen after they survived the ordeal, told AFP news agency. "Everybody was afraid to die, I think."

"On the honeymoon, we will go to a warmer place, I think."

A Chilean air force spokesman said that while in the military barracks on King George, the tourists had been "doing very well and some of them have been in touch with their families via the internet".

Some 23 Britons, 17 Dutch and 13 Americans were among those on board the ship.

There were also 10 Australians and 10 Canadians and other nationalities included Irish, Danish, Swiss, Belgian, Japanese, French, German and Chinese, said Gap Adventures, the Toronto-based tour company.

Abandon ship

The tour group had embarked from Ushuaia, on Argentina's southern tip, on 11 November for a 19-day "Spirit of Shackleton" cruise through the Drake Passage, costing from around $8,000 (3,900) per cabin.

The ship, the Explorer, ran into trouble approximately 120km (75 miles) north of the Antarctic Peninsula.

map

The company said pumps had been used in an effort to stop the ship sinking, but in the meantime the captain gave the order to abandon ship, and passengers were transferred to lifeboats.

After several hours bobbing on the sea amid floating sheets of ice, they were plucked to safety by the Norwegian cruise ship, the Nordnorge.

Coastguards said although the weather conditions were good for this time of year, the average temperature was still -5C.

Passenger Gillian Plant, 40, of Manchester, England, praised the ship's captain for the way the evacuation was handled.

She told the BBC News website: "There was no panic at all and no injuries. Everybody is perfect, no bruises, no scratches."

She said the evacuees, clad in protective suits, passed the four-and-a-half-hour wait to be rescued by watching for whales.

Argentine guide Andrea Salas, who was also on the ship, told Argentina's Radio Continental she was in the bar having a drink "when two passengers from the cabins down below came in wet, shouting: 'There's water, there's water!'

"We ran out to see what was happening - and there was this hole in the cabins down below. The cabins were already quite flooded."

She said: "There were people suffering from hypothermia and it felt like an eternity until the boats came to the rescue."

Following the news of the incident, the specialist Lloyds List maritime publication said the 2,400-tonne Explorer had had five faults at its last inspection.

However, the UK Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA), whose inspectors found the faults, said that they had all been rectified by the time the ship set sail again.

M/S EXPLORER
Graphic: MV Explorer
Built: 1969, Finland
Capacity: 100 passengers
Tonnage: 2,400
Cruising speed: 11 knots
Engines: 3,800 hp diesels
Crew: 54
First custom-built expedition ship
Known as the 'Little Red Ship' to aficionados
Became the first passenger vessel to navigate the North West passage in 1984
Involved in rescue of crew from Argentine cargo vessel off Anvers Island, Antarctica, in 1989



VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Rescued passengers describe the lifeboat conditions



SEE ALSO
Evacuee describes Antarctic rescue
24 Nov 07 |  Americas
Cruise ship 'fit for conditions'
24 Nov 07 |  Highlands and Islands
Stricken Antarctic ship evacuated
24 Nov 07 |  Americas
In pictures: Antarctic ship rescue
23 Nov 07 |  In Pictures
Rescue aided from 8,000 miles away
23 Nov 07 |  Cornwall
Your Explorer pictures
23 Nov 07 |  In Pictures

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