Half of the 154 people who survived the sinking of a cruise ship after it hit an iceberg in the freezing waters off Antarctica arrived in Chile on Saturday aboard a military jet.
Seventy-seven of those rescued from the Explorer cruise liner touched down at Punta Arenas, southern Chile, aboard a Chilean air force C-130 after spending the night at a Chilean base on the Antarctic island of King George.
"I feel wonderful, very pleased to be alive," said Danish tourist Jan Henkel, 42, standing next to his girlfriend Mette Larsen, 29. "Everybody was afraid to die, I think."
Larsen was relieved enough to joke that when the pair wed soon, "on the honeymoon, we will go to a warmer place."
The plane was due to set off again to fetch the remainder of those rescued, who spent the night at a Uruguayan base on the island.
The Canadian-chartered passenger ship sank on Friday evening, hours after hitting the iceberg, but all the 91 passengers, 54 crew members and nine other employees escaped on lifeboats and were later picked up by a Norwegian boat.
None of the passengers were harmed in the wreck.
The Canadian GAP Adventures company that ran the cruise earlier said it was making arrangements to fly the 100 passengers, among them Australians, Britons, Canadians and Americans, to their respective homes.
Weather permitting, all the passengers were expected to be moved from Antarctica by yesterday morning, Chilean officials said.
The Explorer, a cruise liner registered in Liberia that was chartered by the Canadian tour company, struck an iceberg near the island of San Carlos early on Friday and sank the same day, Chilean military officials said.
"There was wind and it was very cold and we were wet because of the waves," crew member Andrea Salas, 38, told Argentina's radio Continental.
She said the passengers and crew spent three to four hours on lifeboats before they were rescued by the Norwegian cruise ship, the Nordnorge, which happened to be passing nearby.
"They are in good condition. There is no hypothermia, they all have food and clothes. Everything is OK," Nordnorge captain Arnvid Hansen had said by phone after the rescue.
Chilean Navy and Air Force personnel then ferried 84 people to Chile's Frei military base and the remaining 70 to Uruguay's Artigas military bases, both in Antarctica.
The captain of the Explorer and another senior officer stayed on board the 2,400-tonne Explorer until it became clear it would sink.
Susan Hayes, vice president of marketing for GAP Adventures, said the evacuation went smoothly.
"They actually had several hours while the pumps were pumping the water from the bilge," she said.
All passengers received evacuation training the when they arrived on the ship, the company said.
The Lloyds List maritime publication said the Explorer had five "deficiencies" at its last inspection including problems with a watertight door. The ship also had lifeboat maintenance problems and missing search and rescue plans, a report on Lloyds' Web site said.
Watertight doors were described as "not as required," and fire safety measures were also criticized, the Web site said.