3 Rescued Within Minutes of Becoming Polar Bears’ Lunch
Three Polish researchers stranded on a remote Arctic island were rescued by helicopter with polar bears about 20 yards from reaching them, officials said Wednesday.
The hairsbreadth escape took place in Norway’s Svalbard archipelago, about 600 miles from the North Pole.
“It was the worst imaginable situation. They were cold and wet, had no equipment or weapons and were surrounded by hungry polar bears,” said Peter Braaten of the Svalbard governor’s office.
The three men from the Polish research ship Horyzont set out in a small inflatable boat to pick up equipment on one of the islands.
“Their boat capsized, and they lost all their equipment and weapons,” Braaten said. They swam and clambered over chunks of floating ice to get to the island of Edgeoya. They stayed there, at the edge of a tiny bay between two glaciers, for 15 hours before the helicopter arrived.
“They managed to start a fire, to keep warm and keep the polar bears away,” Braaten said, explaining that the men used the spark plugs from their capsized craft’s outboard motor to get the fire going. The island has some dried grass and scrubby plants.
The men, who suffered minor scrapes and bruises, were flown to a Polish research base on the islands and dropped off for treatment.
Braaten said at least three polar bears looking for a meal where within about 20 yards of the men when the helicopter picked them up, adding, “That is dangerously close.”