RICHMOND -- George and Norma Trillia's first days back from what they called a "trip of a lifetime" to Antarctica weren't filled with reminiscence and repose. Instead, they fielded a slew of calls from -- and even some visits to their house by -- reporters eager to hear their story.

"It's unbelievable," George Trillia said. "Everybody thought we were stuck in the ice."

The confusion stemmed from press reports from the world's southernmost continent about Thursday's helicopter rescue of 52 passengers from a research ship trapped in the Antarctic ice since Christmas Eve. The Russian ship MV Akademik Shokalskiy got stuck after a blizzard pushed sea ice around the ship, freezing it in place in eastern Antarctica. A scientific team on board had been recreating Australian explorer Douglas Mawson's voyage to Antarctica in 1911-13.

George and Norma Trillia on vacation in Antarctica. (Courtesy of Norma Trillia)
George and Norma Trillia on vacation in Antarctica. (Courtesy of Norma Trillia)

As information about the passengers trickled in, one of Trillia's neighbors told the press that Norma told her earlier this month she was going on a cruise to the frozen continent, signaling to eager reporters that the local husband and wife adventurers were on the beleaguered ship.

Instead, the Trillias were on a different Russian vessel, this one chartered by One Ocean Expeditions, that departed from the southern tip of Argentina to western Antarctica.

"It was the trip of a lifetime," Norma said. George, 80, said he and his 78-year-old wife were amused by the attention, but a little sad that they didn't have the story the reporters wanted.

"We didn't want to leave, it was so beautiful and exciting," George said. "To have been stuck in the pristine air and ice, and have a helicopter rescue later, would have been the greatest way to extend our adventure."

Norma, a retired construction company worker, said Russian vessels built for exploring and gathering research in the treacherous Antarctic conditions are now commonly chartered by tour companies to give travelers an experience exploring the largely uninhabited continent.

George and Norma Trillia on vacation in Antarctica. (Courtesy of Norma Trillia)
George and Norma Trillia on vacation in Antarctica. (Courtesy of Norma Trillia)

It was the Trillias' first trip to Antarctica.

They said their eight-day excursion included twice-a-day hikes on the icy surface, and they saw abundant populations of whales and penguins. The temperature averaged a balmy 20 degrees during entire days of daylight, they said, as December is part of Antarctica's summer season.

"It was just incredible mountains blanketed in white snow as far as the eye could see," Norma said. "There is no industrial blemish, nothing to interrupt the natural beauty, totally pristine."

As for the ill-fated trip on the other side of the continent, those passengers are expected to all be home safely in the coming weeks.

George Trillia, who studies exploring history as a hobby, said he would have been thrilled to be stuck in the ice, which he likened to the harrowing 1914 expedition led by Ernest Shackleton, who set out to cross the continentwhen his ship was trapped and crushed by pack ice. The expedition members survived after an epic journey on sledges.

"It would have been our chance to do something courageous," George said.

Contact Robert Rogers at 510-262-2726 or rrogers@bayareanewsgroup.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/SFBaynewsrogers.