Explorer tourists back on mainland

The last group of survivors from the Antarctic cruise ship that struck an iceberg and sank have been flown back to the South American mainland.

The last group of survivors from the Antarctic cruise ship that struck an iceberg and sank have been flown back to the South American mainland.

Four Irish people - three tourists and one crew member - were aboard the vessel Explorer when it started taking in water on Friday.

A Chilean military transport plane ferried the final 77 of the 154 passengers and crew from the MS Explorer to Punta Arenas, the country’s southernmost city and a jumping-off point for Antarctica travel.

Yesterday’s airlift was composed of 11 passengers and 65 crew members, most of whom refused to comment on advice from lawyers.

A Chilean air force plane flew the ship’s first 77 survivors back from the King George Island air base, 660 miles south of the remote tip of South America, on Saturday.

The Explorer, operated by the Canadian tour company GAP Adventures, smashed into submerged sea ice in Antarctic waters before dawn on Friday, took on water and sank about 15 hours later.

All on board made it into lifeboats and were rescued by a passing Norwegian cruise ship.

Yesterday, many still carried the life jackets they wore while waiting for hours in rafts for rescue.

Some carried plastic bags with a few belongings, heading for medical check-ups and visits with consular officials from a host of countries on hand to help them get home.

The Explorer’s captain, Bengt Wiman, gave a thumbs-up sign to crowds who welcomed the plane but made no comment.

The ship’s 91 passengers hailed from more than a dozen nations, including the four Irish people, 24 Britons, 17 Dutch, 14 Americans, 12 Canadians and 10 Australians. Nine expedition staff members and a crew of 54 were also aboard the ship, operators said.

The Explorer had been on a 19-day tour of Antarctica and the Falkland Islands, bringing passengers to observe penguins, whales and other wildlife.

There was one small piece of good news from the catastrophe. While bobbing in a life raft on the freezing sea, Danish citizen, Jan Heikel, 42, and his girlfriend Mette Larsen, 29, said they decided to speed up wedding plans.

“There were some very frightening moments but the crew was very professional and the captain very good and had everything under control,” Heikel said.

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